Little Fawn Boland is the newest member of the Travois New Markets advisory board. Little Fawn is a member of the Piro/Manso/Tiwa Indian Tribe of the Pueblo of San Juan de Guadalupe in New Mexico. She was born and raised in Nevada but has made the San Francisco area her home for more than 15 years. Since 2005, she has been working exclusively as an attorney in Indian Country representing tribal governments, tribal corporations, Native people and companies seeking to partner with tribes. She is a partner at Ceiba Legal, LLP.
Learn more about her in the interview below.
As an attorney, what type of work do you do?
I assist tribes to bring a range of economic development projects to fruition by providing guidance and strategically mapping out the steps and the team needed to make projects a reality. I specialize in negotiating and structuring tribal economic development transactions, negotiating on behalf of tribes with federal, state, and local governments, assisting tribes in the development of necessary legal infrastructure for economic development including taxation and corporate codes, creating functional corporate charters and bylaws, obtaining necessary entitlements, and navigating “Indian Lands Decision” and “Fee-to-Trust” processes. I am currently serving as legal counsel on several gaming and non-gaming projects. I also work for a handful of tribal casinos and gaming commissions.
What inspires or motivates you in your work or personally?
Tribes have gotten the short end of the stick for hundreds of years. One would think that stories about tribes being taken advantage of or the government standing in the way of tribes would be a thing of the past. This is still going on every day. I am inspired to bring honest representation to tribes. I want them to be able to make informed decisions and not to let anyone, including the government, to take away or diminish their inherent rights.
What do you find rewarding about your work?
Many traditional lawyers spend their lives in offices or courtrooms. I get to have daily contact with my tribal clients, to be become part of their communities and families, and to spend a lot of my professional life out on reservations. I am honored to be called upon as an advisor and confidant of elected leaders and tribal decision-makers. I get to experience politics and the effects of economic development, or the lack thereof, in a microcosm. It’s never boring.
What brought about your interest in the law?
I had a chance to study abroad for a year in Mexico and for a year in Japan. In college, I studied international law with a focus on economics. I also participated in two summer internships working for the British House of Parliament and for the United Nations in Costa Rica. I had a vision that I would eventually work in government in the international sphere. That led me to international law.
I studied sovereignty, comity (respect amongst nations), constitutional interpretation and drafting, nation building, self-governance, treaty interpretation, the law of discovery, and on and on. I was approaching all these topics from the international perspective but as soon as I was exposed to Indian law I realized everything I learned was directly applicable to our Indian nations within the United States. I did not need to leave the country to use my education. I could stay right here and help my people as a lawyer in Indian Country.
What is your experience with Indian Country economic development generally and the NMTC program specifically?
I have been working on economic development as an attorney since 2005. I worked on many gaming projects, three c-stores, small scale solar, and many other tribal business ventures that take advantage of tribes’ unique status.
Over the last year my firm, Ceiba Legal LLP, negotiated and closed a New Market Tax Credit (NMTC) deal on behalf of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada & California. We used a “stacked” structure and were able deploy both state of Nevada and federal tax credits. It was an incredible learning curve, but my partner and I learned the complexities of the program and especially how to meet the program requirements while also addressing the nuances of doing deals in Indian Country. We learned firsthand how to create the necessary tribal business structures for an NMTC transaction. We lived the political, economic, and development challenges that tribes need to be ready for to successfully complete a NMTC deal. Finally, we gained a true appreciation of the incredible benefits and mitigable risks of the program.
What do you hope to gain/accomplish as a Travois advisory board member?
I would like to be part of Travois’ educational efforts to help tribes understand the opportunities that exist under the NMTC and Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) programs. In addition, I want to find ways to make tribes believe that they too can complete an NMTC or LIHTC deal with the right team and to give tribes the tools to do so.
I hope to add my perspective on what has and has not worked for Indian Country to Travois’ already deep bench of advisors and staff. I would like to be part of a push to educate affluent tribes and Indian Country investors to understand the excellent rates of return and low risk opportunities that exist for them to lend to tribes who want to participate in the NMTC program but do not have the capital necessary to participate in an NMTC deal. Finally, I want to help increase the allocation of tax credits for Indian Country projects.
What does #20YearsEquals mean to you?
It means more opportunities for Indians and tribes to be self-sufficient. It means more access to on-reservation jobs and education and more opportunities for tribes to build their own government infrastructure. Governments for our people by our people!
What personal or professional accomplishment are you most proud of and why?
I had the most immediate gratification from winning a case in state court that allowed a Native family to keep their home. The family home was passed on for generations, and due to tribal politics, the home was being taken away. A tribal plaintiff hauled the family into state court under a dangerous legal theory for Indian Country. I was able to eventually prove the court lacked jurisdiction to evict the family. It felt amazing when I told the family about the favorable decision. The family was overjoyed and made me a beautiful piece of beadwork. I still keep it hanging up in my office. The beadwork represents that the law can help people even against the odds and that we must be careful to protect against attacks on sovereignty from both within and without Indian Country.