Native American Treaty Rights

Native American Treaty Rights can have a profound effect on real estate transactions and water rights in particular.  Our attorneys have represented clients in a broad range of legal matters relating to Native American Treaty Rights both in purchase and sale transactions and in litigation.  Whenever possible, we emphasize problem-solving between our clients and indigenous peoples and tribes possessing aboriginal or treaty entitlements to use natural resources.

Representative Experience

  • We successfully defended the City of Tacoma against a $6 billion lawsuit by the Skokomish Indian Tribe for alleged damages to fish and wildlife arising out of the construction of the Cushman Hydroelectric Project in the 1920s. We argued that the project was properly licensed, constructed and operated under federal law and, therefore, did not violate any treaty obligations to the tribe. We also argued that there was no legal basis for the Tribe to bring a claim against Tacoma. The United States District Court granted Tacoma's summary judgment in August 2001, dismissing the tribe's claims. The case was argued before the Ninth Circuit in January 2003, and the court sustained the District Court’s ruling in May 2003. The Ninth Circuit granted en banc review of the case (a panel of 11 circuit court judges, rather than the usual three), and the en banc panel also upheld summary judgment in Tacoma's favor (410 F. 3d 506 (9th Cir. 2005), cert. denied, 126 S. Ct. 1025 (2006)).
  • We represented Seattle-based SSA Marine, Inc. in purchasing a large Brownfields property in the heart of the Port of Tacoma and in reaching an agreement with the Puyallup Tribe to develop and operate a 180-acre shipping container terminal on this property and adjacent land owned by the Tribe.  We successfully negotiated the revision of two Agreed Orders with Ecology for SSA’s assumption of the RCRA Permit and cleanup obligations and subsequently negotiated a Consent Decree and variety of partnering agreements with the Puyallup Indian Tribe and the Port of Tacoma to facilitate the development of one of the State’s marine terminals. In addition to representing SSA Marine during the negotiations, we drafted the documents structuring the agreement and remain involved in implementing its terms, obtaining permits, and providing advice on environmental, land use, business, and tax issues.
  • In the Puyallup Indian Land and Jurisdictional Claims Settlement, one of the largest Indian settlements in the country, we served as the lead negotiator representing Pierce County, the Port of Tacoma, the cities of Tacoma, Fife and Puyallup, and private landowners and businesses. Spanning six years, this complex, multi-party effort required identification of the key issues and claims to be resolved, legal and historical research, strategic and policy planning, and the involvement and commitment of all affected parties. The negotiations resulted in a comprehensive $162 million settlement package approved and funded by the U.S. Congress, the Washington State legislature, local governments, and private parties, in exchange for the Puyallup Indian Tribe's agreement to relinquish claims to large expanses of land in the Tacoma area. Key to this success was our ability to build and maintain relationships, understand the needs of each party, and develop creative solutions throughout the process.