If you are allowed to apply to open a business on tribal land, there are a few aspects that you will need to take into consideration first. Operating a business on tribal land in America comes with a unique set of requirements because of tribal authority and the difference in tax laws. There are potential advantages in store for you if you do, but there are five questions that you need to ask before signing any agreements.
Is Your Business Compatible with the Community?
Most tribes will entertain business propositions from companies that are aligned with their values and customs. Before you can open your small business here, you must first find out if your business would be approved by their tribal authority. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is closely involved in most lease approvals on tribal land.
What Is the Lease Process?
As mentioned above, the BIA could be involved in the approval process of your business’s lease. Depending on the land, the lease process could begin with a leasing manager or a development group, or it could require that you approach the Tribal Council involved. Some tribes have implemented procedures and policies like municipal processes, such as putting a project application through planning and zoning, legal, and financing commissions before it goes on for final approval.
What Taxes Apply to Your Business?
Tribal land does not have one uniform tax law or code; the individual tribes can create tax policies themselves. These tribes can also levy their set of taxes on specific activities. The upside here is that you could qualify for tax exemptions, which depends on the type of business you have. You should consult a tribal law professional from Polito Law to assist with any legal concerns that you may have.
How Long Will the Process Take?
Some tribes own their utilities so you could therefore be exempt from paying certain taxes and add-on charges, which could save your business a lot of money. Usually, reservations with utilities can have a longer process to contend with for business applications because they are larger. Smaller tribes with straightforward leadership are usually quick to respond. The general rule for businesses looking to apply to operate from tribal land is that this type of approval usually takes 20 to 30 percent longer than business applications for non-tribal land.
How Are Disputes Handled?
If you are a member of the tribe then you will likely have some added advantages over non-tribal members but that doesn’t mean that you won’t ever dispute anything. You need to find out how that specific tribe handles disputes and conflicts on tribal territory. There may be a limited waiver of sovereign immunity for your business, which means that disputes can be handled through arbitration procedures instead of in a tribal court.
Opening a business on tribal land is a viable business plan, but you need to do your research beforehand and get all these questions answered. Once you have clarity on the matters above, you can then decide whether you want to proceed or not.
Photo Credit: Janusz Sobolewski