Buy Indian Act: What it Can Do for YOUR Native Owned Business

By: Stephanie Conduff | Attorney |
Theodore J. Griswold
| Partner |

Does your Native-owned business want to get into government contracting?

Does it have some government contracts, but want to expand your business?

The Buy Indian Act is an opportunity for your Native-owned business to generate revenue and establish quality past performance.

This month government has awarded contracts to a call center and a business selling arsenic-removal treatments for water supply and irrigation systems. Each one of these companies received 100% Buy Indian Small Business Set Aside in the last two months. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee is having a listening session today at 2:45 EST in 216 Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. to better understand what can be done to empower Native-owned businesses. This signals that changes to strengthen the Buy Indian Act could be on the horizon from Congress.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) rules state pursuant to the Buy Indian Act they must give Indian businesses first preference in procurement matters by seeking contract offers from at least two Indian Economic Enterprises (IEE). The definition of an IEE is that it is a for-profit business that is at least 51% Native owned or 51% owned by a tribal government. When the BIA has the two offers on a contract they must select one of them that is an IEE, so long as it is of a “reasonable and fair market price.” And that’s a lot of discretion when you are debating what is reasonable to government procurement officers.

The BIA may deviate from the rules only in specific circumstances, such as when no offers are received from any IEEs or when only one offer is received and it is not reasonable.

I recommend that Native businesses seek opportunities often at Federal Business Opportunities. You can set up an alert that emails you directly when an opportunity arises that matches the goods or services you provide is available.

When looking for a Buy Indian Act opportunity, teaming is encouraged, because subcontracting is permitted. And remember that least 50 percent of the subcontracted work must go to IEEs and this empowers the Native business to learn from the partnering business and build its own capacity through increased opportunities.

To be eligible under the Buy Indian Act there are the 5 requirements:

  1. The business must be an Indian Economic Enterprise (IEE). The definition of IEE is that it is a for profit business that is at least 51% Native owned or 51% owned by a tribal government.
  2. The IEE owners must be citizens of a federally recognized tribal government or Alaska Native village.
  1. The IEE must manage the contract.
  1. The Native person or tribal government must receive majority of the earnings from the contract.
  1. The Native person or tribal government must control the daily business operations.

Here is the other great news – the scope extends beyond just the BIA. To increase the economic impact of the Buy Indian Act, the rules authorize that the Department of Interior may delegate the mandate to other bureaus in the department like the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management. What do you make that our national parks need? Maybe you sell t-shirts? Or provide office supplies? Or pesticides? Or fire land management?

Our government has immediate contracting needs and your Native businesses can fill them today – if you seize the opportunity!

Stephanie Conduff, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, is a member of the firm’s Real Estate and Environmental Team and a member of the Native American Law practice group. Her practice emphasizes working with tribal governments, individual Native people, and companies doing business in Indian Country. She provides advice and strategic policy analysis on national regulatory issues and advises clients of the legal and policy issues. Stephanie’s work focuses on tribal sovereignty and self-governance, tribal lands, the federal trust responsibility and working with businesses in Indian Country.

Ted is head of the Native American Law practice group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle. Connect with Ted at and 619.515.3277.