Native American Tribes Launch Legal Action against State of New York in Major Defense of Tribal Sovereignty

Posted by on Aug 21, 2013 in Press Release | 0 comments

WASHINGTON (August 21, 2013) — After recent actions by New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) Administrator Benjamin Lawsky to unlawfully intimidate Native American tribes and the legal and licensed businesses they run, a coalition of Tribes has filed a complaint today with the United States District Court Southern District of New York requesting an injunction against Lawsky’s efforts. The tribes filing the lawsuit are members of the Native American Financial Services Association (NAFSA).

“Defendant Lawsky and the State of New York have overstepped their bounds with their illegal attacks on our tribes,” said Barry Brandon, Executive Director of the Native American Financial Services Association (NAFSA). “His actions are a flagrant denial of our rights as sovereign entities, and today, we are fighting back to defend these rights.”

“We have enjoyed these sovereign rights for centuries predating even the United States,” Brandon continued. “They have been established and reinforced by Constitutional law, federal legislation, and a long history of legal rulings. Our actions today will protect the sovereign rights of Native American tribes and their wholly-owned businesses from extraterritorial attempts to impose New York State laws on transactions governed by tribal law.”

“This is a straightforward case that is about the real world importance of Native American sovereign rights,” said David Bernick of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, LLP, who serves as Counsel of Record for the action. “Defendant Lawsky knows that he doesn’t have the authority to regulate and limit tribes’ sovereignty, which is why the Department of Financial Services has instead gone after tribes’ banking relationships. Since Defendant Lawsky has turned a blind eye to hundreds of years of precedent, he has left tribes with only one clear path: go to the courts to protect these very old and highly-respected rights.”

The complaint argues that tribes will suffer irreparable injury absent injunctive relief, as Defendant Lawsky’s intimidation tactics against banks and third-party processors have already led to significant harm to tribes’ business relationships. As a result, critical funding for government operations on tribal lands, such as health care, social services, and education will be severely impacted. Funding from these businesses can make up 25% of tribal operating budgets, at a minimum.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Otoe-Missouria Tribe, a federally-recognized Indian Tribe; Great Plains Lending, LLC, a wholly-owned tribal limited liability company; American Web Loan, Inc., a wholly-owned tribal corporation; Otoe-Missouria Consumer Finance Services Regulatory Commission, a tribal regulatory agency; Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, a federally-recognized Indian Tribe; Red Rock Tribal Lending, LLC, a wholly-owned tribal limited liability company; and the Lac Vieux Desert Tribal Financial Services Regulatory Authority, a tribal regulatory agency. Benjamin M. Lawsky, in his individual capacity and in his official capacity as Superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services, has been named as the Defendant.

David Bernick of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, LLP, is serving as Counsel of Record for the action with Robert Rosette serving as co-counsel and attorney representing the two tribes.


The Native American Financial Services Association (NAFSA) formed in 2012 to advocate for Native American sovereign rights and enable tribes to offer responsible online lending products. Through the protection of consumer rights and sovereign immunity, NAFSA provides vital services to tribally operated lenders serving the under-banked with better short term financial services, furthering economic development opportunities in Indian Country.

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