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Law firm aids tribal entrepreneurs

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SEATTLE – The Williams Kastner Law Firm in Seattle has a tribal practice group of three Native attorneys designed to assist tribal members in a variety of areas: Indian law and gaming, legislative and government affairs, and tribal sports and entertainment.

Quanah Spencer, Yakama, is one of the three Native attorneys, along with Deborah Juarez, Blackfeet, who chairs the tribal practice group, and Gabe Galanda, Round Valley Indian Tribe. Spencer explained why he joined the firm. “I wanted to focus on trying to provide sound legal advice for tribal entrepreneurs. A lot of what is going on in Indian country now is this new group of entrepreneurs who are creating new business entities to generate commerce and generate jobs in Indian country. Something like 70 percent of Indian country is 40 and under. We have this new generation of entrepreneurs focused on a whole different category of business opportunities.”

Spencer’s background includes experience with several tribes working with people focused on new business opportunities and doing it so it’s sustainable and stable. He’s also in that younger age group and the combination felt right for joining with Williams Kastner.

It’s the area of tribal sports and entertainment which really sets this firm apart from others. “I know of no other Indian law firm which focuses on sports and entertainment,” Spencer said. “To my knowledge we’re the first.”

“Entertainment means entertainment. It could be comedians, actors, writers or any of those people who have a need for our types of services. We aren’t saying we just want the hip hop artists or traditional drum groups. We’re looking at those people but also all the people with issues related to entertainment or sports.”

One such group that recently signed on with this law firm is Rez Hog Records which is based in Toppenish, Wash. In early October Rez Hog won first place at the Native American Music Awards in the rap/hip hop category and had a second CD also picked in the top six.

Ryan Craig, Yakama, is president of Rez Hog Records. “Everybody from Rez Hog Records was involved in the winning album, “All Day All Night.” That’s why it was pretty cool for that one to win. We essentially took the two best songs from about eight of us and it ended up being 20 songs.”

Their other entry in the top six was by Nathaniel Winishut, a member of Rez Hogs. “The cool thing about his album is 90 percent of it he recorded while stationed in Baghdad with the U.S. Army,” Craig said.

Asked about his involvement with Williams Kastner Law Firm, Craig said, “Quanah extended his help and from there it’s led to a lot of good things since we started working with him. It’s been really beneficial.”

“With more emphasis on sports and entertainment, we’re hoping at some point we’ll be able to encourage people to do that who hadn’t thought of entering those areas, then come to us for their legal needs in things like licensing agreements, royalty payments, copyrights, and more,” Spencer explained. “College athletes are thinking of what to do next, be it professional baseball, basketball, or something else. We want them comfortable to realize there are professionals out there focused on providing good legal advice when deciding what type of legal contract to sign.”

It could also involve tribes rather than individuals wanting to host something like a boxing match. There can be very specific regulations required and boxers also need their own legal protection. That’s where a law firm specializing in those areas can be very helpful.

Williams Kastner is also becoming more involved in Native sporting events. They are now one of the major sponsors of the Native American Basketball Invitational Tournament in Arizona. Spencer also said they will be hosting a fundraiser including a powwow, 5K run, and concert that will also be held in Arizona but invitations will go out across the country.

Spencer concluded saying, “In Indian country we need to focus on ‘how do we help each other out? How do we look for connections we can use to help one another realize their dreams? That’s what I was taught growing up as an American Indian. How do you help your community, wherever that is and whoever that might be, to help improve not only themselves but to realize their dreams? If there is some way I can help someone like Ryan Craig, who is really trying and working hard at it and is now on the cusp of critical acclaim and potentially more, than I want to be able to be that tool.”