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Business Q&A: Understanding Indian law important for conducting business with tribes

Taiawagi Helton, a professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Law, discusses Indian law and business.
by Paula Burkes Published: June 7, 2013

Q&A with Taiawagi Helton

Knowledge of Indian law can be useful for Oklahoma businesses

Q: The University of Oklahoma College of Law offers extensive opportunities to study Indian law, including four degree and certificate programs. Why is Indian law important to Oklahoma?

A: Oklahoma has the second-largest American Indian population in the United States and its territory interlaces with nearly 40 tribal nations. The U.S. recognizes indigenous peoples as sovereigns with the right of self-governance. Tribal, federal and international Indian law includes a fascinating body of treaties, statutes, and judicial decisions that govern relations with, and defines the rights of, tribal nations.

Q: How does Indian law affect business in Oklahoma?

A: Oklahoma businesses may interact with tribes as governments or marketplace participants. Tribes contribute millions of dollars annually to the regional economy, creating altogether remarkable opportunities, but opportunities to which specific rules may apply. Those conducting business with the tribes may be affected in a variety of ways, relating, for example, to contracts, employment, tax (including both incentives and obligations), energy, public safety and sovereign immunity. Indian law may determine whether a dispute may be raised in tribal, state or federal court. It may determine how a contract can be interpreted or enforced. It may address permitting authority, make available natural resources — like water, timber, and minerals — or resolve questions of environmental jurisdiction.

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by Paula Burkes
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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