Home Jurisdiction Beyond Casinos: Growth Opportunities for Businesses in Tribal Lands

Beyond Casinos: Growth Opportunities for Businesses in Tribal Lands

Beyond Casinos: Growth Opportunities for Businesses in Tribal Lands


There is no dearth of scholarships or white papers on the intricacies of doing business in Indian County, but until recently there were few well-known examples that clearly demonstrate the benefits of doing business in Indian County. ‘operate on tribal lands.

This autumn, Tesla has opened its new showroom and a repair center on the trusted lands of the Nambé Pueblo, a federally recognized tribe located north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. State law that prohibited the electric automaker’s business model of selling directly to consumers by requiring all car sales to go through a dealership.

Tribes are sovereign governments predating the United States that retained their sovereignty when the United States and 50 states developed around them, and state law generally does not apply to tribal lands. This jurisdictional distinction has manifested itself in many businesses commonly associated with tribes, such as casinos, cigarettes, fireworks, and now revolutionary high-end electric cars. New Mexico state law requiring all car sales to be through dealerships simply does not apply to tribal lands, including the gorgeous new Tesla Showroom in Nambé Pueblo.

Technology, branding, and the drastic shift to remote working have made many of the business standards created by law, like the requirement of car dealerships, largely obsolete. Yet many of these laws remain on the books as barriers to growth and competition.

The Indian country presents a valuable opportunity not only to effectively manage outdated regulatory burdens, but also has significant advantages beyond mere jurisdictional advantages.

Trust c. Royalty lands and reserved jurisdiction

The greatest advantage of partnering with tribes is the unique status of their lands, which can be held in many ways, making a clear understanding of the status of land at the heart of development opportunities.

Unlike fee lands, which are alienable and subject to federal, state and local laws, Indian trust lands are lands held in trust by the United States for the benefit of an Indian tribe and are therefore subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. the Indian tribe.

Because tribes are not subject to state land regulations, Nambé Tesla was able to simply bypass New Mexico’s outdated car dealership law and strategically place his business on tribal trust land.

Focus on diversity and inclusion

Modern businesses embrace diversity and inclusion as the makeup of the workforce continues to change. The obvious advantage of settling on an Indian reserve is the diversity of the local workforce.

The less obvious advantage is that tribes are deeply invested in the employment of their citizens and are often willing to invest in workforce development programs, or access federal opportunities, which could constitute a valuable reserve of labor.


Another advantage of tribal jurisdiction over Indian trust lands is the ability to negotiate taxes directly with the government exercising that jurisdiction. Neighboring states often have fixed taxes that cannot be changed, but tribal taxes are generally lower, less extensive, and can often be negotiated to the benefit of both parties.

Federal investments in rural broadband

The federal government recently invested heavily in rural broadband, especially as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to impact the country. Many tribal governments have taken advantage of these opportunities to significantly expand rural broadband on their reserves and update old and obsolete equipment. As tribes continue to increase their modern connectivity, companies will have greater opportunities to expand their places of business into rural tribal communities.

While these are certainly important benefits for business opportunities, relationships still matter above all else. Regardless of financial incentives, partnering for growth in an Indian country requires understanding that all tribes have different systems, cultures and histories that must be considered to create value that can extend beyond a review.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

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Author Info

Charles W. Galbraith is Co-Chair of Jenner & Block’s U.S. Indigenous Law Firm and Partner of Government Controversies and Public Policy Litigation and Government Relations. He is a citizen of the Navajo Nation with over 15 years of experience helping tribes navigate their unique legal landscape and political relationships in the United States.

Krystalyn kinsel is a partner who focuses her practice on complex litigation and Native American matters. She is a citizen of the Navajo Nation and her background ranges from representing the sovereign interests of tribal governments to defending multinational technology companies and federal agencies against civil actions in federal, state and tribal courts.