By: Kele Bigknife | Intern | bigknife@umich.edu

Theodore J. Griswold | Partner | ted.griswold@procopio.com

The Promise Zone Initiative was launched under the Obama administration in January 2014 to designate and aid a number of high-poverty urban, rural, and tribal communities to create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing and improve public safety.  A community seeking designation was tasked with detailing how the Promise Zone designation would help accelerate and strengthen the community’s efforts for revitalization.  Selection as a Promise Zone partners the community with federal government liaisons to help the community gain a competitive advantage in applying for federal grants and loans, and to streamline the federal bureaucracy.  The goals of the program include boosting economic activity and job growth, leveraging private investment, expanding educational opportunities, and the secondary benefit of reducing violent crime.

The third and final round of selections for Promise Zone Communities was announced earlier this summer, and two tribes are among the nine additions.  The Spokane Tribe of Washington and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians in North Dakota join the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of the Oglala Sioux Tribe in South Dakota (second-round admits), and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (first-round admits) as “Promise Zone” communities.

The Promise Zone’s tag-line reads “a child’s zip code should never determine her destiny.”  The effects of being raised in an impoverished community historically correlates to the child’s odds of graduating high school, her health outcomes, and her lifetime economic opportunities.  Many tribal areas have seen the devastating effects of poverty, and have suffer from a lack of housing, jobs, health services, and educational opportunities.  However, with the help of the Promise Zone program, hope has returned to some of these communities.

Moreover, the program works.  The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma is one of the oldest tribal communities in the US, and has seen some areas of its reservation at a poverty rate of nearly 52%. After receiving the Promise Zone designation, the tribe has received close to $100 million in federal investments that have funded new affordable housing, a health clinic, child development programs, a community center, and rural development projects that have provided some citizens with access to potable water for the first time.  Additionally, the Choctaw Nation has secured $21 million in New Markets Tax Credits to build an environmentally sustainable steel manufacturing facility, which will support approximately 300 new jobs in the region.

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of the Oglala Sioux Tribe once faced poverty rates higher than 49% of their population, and has seen similar economic advances as the Choctaw Nation since being designated a Promise Zone.  The reservation has expanded access to high-speed internet, built water and sewage infrastructure within the community, and supported an after school meal program through the USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program.

With these Promise Zone tribal success stories, the future appears brighter for The Spokane Tribe of Washington and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.  Some of the proposed plans for these tribes include creating jobs through investments in renewable energy, constructing affordable houses, establishing technology centers and regional food hubs, and reducing crime by updating law and order codes and community policing strategies.

If you are a tribal official or member of a distressed tribal community who missed out on this round of the initiative, there are still many ways to benefit from the program.  The US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website maintains a comprehensive list of federal grant opportunities for distressed communities.  Communities who did not receive Promise Zone designations are welcome to apply for any of these grants and work toward their own, more promising future.

Kele Bigknife is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and is in his third year at the University of Michigan Law School. He is a member of the Editorial Board for the Michigan Business and Entrepreneurial Law Review. Kele is a recipient of the 2016 Procopio Native American Internship.

Ted GriswoldTed is head of the Native American Law practice group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle. Connect with Ted at ted.griswold@procopio.com and 619.515.3277.





By: Jordan Turner | Law Clerk | jordan.turner@procopio.com

Theodore J. Griswold | Partner | ted.griswold@procopio.com

If you thought Tribal lands were insulated from the extreme partisanship that permeates our political landscape, think again. On July 14, 2016, the Republican led U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee approved a draft of the fiscal year 2017 Labor, Health and Human Services funding bill.  Among other things, the bill aims to effectively remove the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) presence on Tribal Lands.

The NLRB is the administrative agency that oversees unionization and pursues cases of unfair labor practices against employers.  It is tasked with enforcing the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), a 1935 federal statute meant to protect workers’ rights to collectively bargain. The NLRB is caught in the middle of a political and ideological battle between Democrats and Republicans.  Part of this battle is being waged on Tribal lands, where the NLRB has consistently sought to enforce the NLRA against Indian entities.  Since 2004, the NLRB has repeatedly asserted its jurisdiction over Indian owned and operated businesses on Tribal lands on the basis that the NLRA is a statute of “general applicability.”  In most cases, the NLRB has been successful. Although the proposed bill does not alter that particular conclusion, it nonetheless provides Indian Tribes with relief by taking the wind out of the sails of the NLRA’s enforcement.

Section 409 of the proposed Appropriations Committee bill states, “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to enforce the National Labor Relations Act against any Indian tribe, including any enterprise or institution owned and operated by an Indian tribe and located on its Indian lands.” According to the Appropriations Committee’s press release, the provisions relating to the NLRB were meant to “stop the NLRB’s harmful anti-business regulations that impose additional and excessive costs on American businesses, result in job losses, and hinder economic growth.”  (A link to the text of the bill may be found in the press release).  Put simply, the NLRB provisions are a part of the GOP’s effort to limit the influence of an executive agency that it believes has overstepped its bounds.

This past June, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a letter to members of the House Appropriations Committee expressing support for the proposed bill.  Importantly, the Chamber of Commerce urged that House members:

Support a prohibition of funding for the enforcement of the National Labor Relations Act against any Indian tribe…These provisions would prevent an unnecessary and unproductive overreach by the NLRB into the sovereign jurisdiction of tribal governments and would ensure that tribal governmental statutes concerning labor relations are respected.

Although the Appropriations Committee approved the proposed bill, it will likely be amended numerous times before a vote takes place, and there is little doubt that Democrats will meet the NLRB provisions with hostility.  Labor and employment practioners, counsel for Native American Tribes, and Native American business owners and governmental leaders should continue to diligently follow the trajectory of this bill, as its outcome stands to have a profound effect on labor relations on Tribal lands.

Jordan Turner is entering his third and final year at the University of San Diego School of Law.  He is the former Co-President and current Co-Chair of Community Service for the Black Law Student Association.  Jordan is a Law Clerk for the Labor and Employment Team at Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP.

Ted GriswoldTed is head of the Native American Law practice group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle.  Connect with Ted at ted.griswold@procopio.com and 619.515.3277.