An enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Vanya has practiced Indian law for over 20 years, representing tribal governments and their business partners. Vanya is an experienced litigator in federal, state, and tribal courts, and has successfully served as lead counsel in multi-million-dollar litigation and arbitration matters over key aspects of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. She also won an important victory in the South Dakota Supreme Court that stopped South Dakota from imposing its motor-fuel taxes on Indian reservations, and successfully argued key motions in federal treaty litigation for the Saginaw Chippewa.
Meanwhile, Vanya maintains an active transactional practice, focusing primarily on Indian gaming, financing, and tribal economic development. She regularly assists clients with business transactions in Indian country, including advising them on appropriate business structures, guiding them through environmental and other regulatory-compliance issues, and negotiating and drafting contracts.
Vanya has worked closely with tribal governments to draft and enact tribal codes and ordinances involving a broad range of subjects, such as tribal-court systems, enrollment, family law, environmental laws, and secured transactions. She has also assisted with Secretarial elections and amending tribal constitutions.
Vanya was named as “Lawyer of the Year” in Native American Law for Minneapolis in 2012, and has been named as a “Super Lawyer” in Minnesota 15 times, as a “Best Lawyer” in Native American law in 2009-2018, is AV-rated by Martindale Hubbell by both lawyers and judges, and nationally ranked by Chambers USA. She is a frequent speaker at Indian-law seminars around the country and serves as a judge for the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Tribal Court.
Vanya has served on the boards of the Minnesota American Indian Bar Association, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, the Nature Conservancy (Minnesota, South Dakota, & North Dakota Chapter), and the University of St. Thomas Law School. Outside the office, she enjoys spending time with her kids, Cora and Vincent, and occasionally finds to time to play piano or a round of golf.
Vanya’s Indian-law experience includes:
- Kalispel Tribe of Indians v. U.S. Department of the Interior. Represent tribal government in challenge to Interior Department’s decision to allow a competitor to build an off-reservation gaming facility two miles from Kalispel Tribe’s casino. (E.D. Wa., ongoing).
- Oneida Nation v. Village of Hobart. Co-counsel for Nation in ongoing dispute regarding the scope of municipal authority over reservation land and whether reservation boundaries remain intact. (E.D. Wis., ongoing).
- Saybrook Tax-Exempt Investors, Inc. v. Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians. Co-counsel for Tribe in litigation over validity of tribal bond documents; secured ruling that various tribal finance documents were invalid under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. (Waukesha County, Dec. 13, 2016).
- City of Duluth v. Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa. Successfully represented tribe in dispute over casino revenue-sharing agreements with City of Duluth. (Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, 2013).
- Wells Fargo v. Lake of the Torches Economic Development Corporation. Successfully urged federal court to find that tribal corporation’s bond indenture was void under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. (Federal District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin, 2010 and Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, 2011)
- Saginaw Chippewa Tribe v. Granholm. Successfully represented tribe in federal-court dispute over reservation boundaries and tribal jurisdiction. (Federal District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, 2010)
- Wichita Tribal Casino. Represented The Alan Wayne Company in successful negotiations for casino financing and development agreements with the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes. (2008)
- K&D Gaming v. Osage Nation. Successfully represented casino developer in dispute with tribe over validity of casino agreements in arbitration proceedings. Also successfully defended the enforceability of an arbitration clause in federal and tribal courts. (2007)
- Tunica-Biloxi Tribe v. Bridges. Represented tribal government in suit challenging Louisiana’s imposition of sales taxes on vehicles purchased by the tribe on its reservation. (Federal District Court, Middle District of Louisiana, 2006)
- Ottawa Tribal Casino. Represented developer and lender in agreements with the Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma for construction of a new casino, including obtaining a favorable decision from the National Indian Gaming Commission on the status and validity of the agreements. (2006)
- Pourier v. South Dakota Dept. of Revenue. Successfully represented tribal-member-gas-station-owner challenging application of South Dakota’s motor fuel tax on the Pine Ridge reservation. (South Dakota Supreme Court, 2003 and 2004)
- Augustine Casino Development and Financing. Advised casino developer in agreements with the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians to develop, manage and finance new casino facility and achieve approval of the client’s management agreement at the National Indian Gaming Commission. (2002)
(651) 842-9100 main
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- J.D. University of Minnesota Law School, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1993 Honors: Cum Laude
- B.A. University of Minnesota, 1990 Honors: Phi Beta Kappa
- South Dakota
- Supreme Court of the United States
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
- U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan
- U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota
- U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska
- U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota
- U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin
- U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin
- Ho-Chunk Tribal Court
- Mille Lacs Tribal Court
- Northern Cheyenne Tribal Court
- Northern Plains Intertribal Court of Appeals
- Lac du Flambeau Tribal Court
- Prairie Island Tribal Court
Honors and Awards:
- Best Lawyers in America in Native American Law for 2009-2018 Editions of Best Lawyers in America
- Super Lawyer in Native American Law, Minnesota Super Lawyers, 2003-2004, 2006-2018
- Lawyer of the Year for Native American Law in Minneapolis Area 2012, Best Lawyers in America
- AV rated – Martindale Hubbell
- Nationally Ranked in Chambers USA in Native American Law
- Under Attack: Tribal Sovereign Immunity, Mitchell Hamline University Law Review Amicus Curiae Blog, May 2, 2018
- Homeland Security: Reservation Boundary Disputes in the 21st Century, Minnesota CLE and Minnesota American Indian Bar Association, 2018
- Constitutional Evolution in the Wake of New Federal Regulations Governing Secretarial Elections, Minnesota CLE and Minnesota American Indian Bar Association, 2016
- Complex Civil Jurisdiction Issues in Tribal Court: the Teague Factors and Beyond, Minnesota CLE and Minnesota American Indian Bar Association, 2015
- Overview: Taxation of Indian Tribes and Their Members by Federal, State, and Tribal Governments, Law Seminars International, 2014
- Practicing in Tribal Courts, Minnesota CLE and Minnesota American Indian Bar Association, 2014
- Contracting and Construction Law on Tribal Lands, Minnesota CLE, 2013
- Mechanisms of Tribal Constitutional Reform, William Mitchell, 2013
- The Pros and Cons of Resolving Disputes in Tribal Courts, Law Seminars International (Program Co-chair), 2013
- Understanding Diverse Cultures and Working with Diverse Clients, Minnesota CLE, 2012
- Lake of the Torches: Lessons Learned for Tribes and Lenders, Minnesota CLE and Minnesota American Indian Bar Association, 2011
- Doing Business in Indian Country, South Dakota Bar Association, 2009
- Tax Management for Tribes, Conference Co-Chair and Presenter on Legal Incidence of Tax Issues, Law Seminars International, 2009
- Federal Review of Tribal Economic Decisions in the Gaming Context: Paternalism or Protection, Harvard Law School 2008
- Construction on Tribal lands, American Bar Association Forum on the Construction Industry, 2006
- Policing Indian Casinos: The Role of Tribal Gaming Commissions, Minnesota American Indian Bar Association, 2006
- Construction on Tribal Lands: Indian Tribes, Tribal Sovereignty, and Tribal Business Organizations, American Bar Association Forum on the Construction Industry, 2005
- Taxes Levied by and on Tribes and Tribal Peoples, Federal Bar Association 30th Annual Indian Law Conference, 2005
- Tribal Environmental Issues, Minnesota American Indian Bar Association Indian Law CLE, 2005