New Ground

Jack Manning helped found his firm’s Native American law practice

Published in 2018 Mountain States Super Lawyers magazine

By Trevor Kupfer on June 11, 2018


Jack Manning has a penchant for modesty and humor. “I’m the only securities lawyer in Montana,” he used to say, “and one of the best.” 

So it’s not surprising to hear him downplay his role in helping Dorsey & Whitney become one of the first large shops to establish a Native American practice group back in 1985. “The guy who really founded the Indian law practice group is Mark Jarboe,” he says. “He credits me with founding it, but he’s a brilliant, confident, nice, plow-ahead kind of guy.” 

Manning, a member of the Sioux tribe at Fort Peck Reservation in northeastern Montana, is proud of his heritage. His great-grandfather, John Manning, established Manning Ranch in the late 1800s. The family raised cattle and farmed wheat. “After my dad died, my mom sold out [the business] to my uncle, and we kept the original deeded acres,” says Manning, who moved off the reservation at 12, but worked there every summer for a decade. “I loved growing up there. There were arrowheads and little lakes and rivers, the rolling plains and farming; you could hunt or fish anytime you wanted.”

The timing of the new practice group worked well with the Reagan-era emphasis on tribal economic self-sufficiency—gambling opened up in the mid-’80s as a revenue source. “With that came gaming compacts with states, joint venture agreements with hotels and casinos, and all the business documents,” Manning says. “There was a lot of new ground to be plowed.” 

He and Jarboe co-wrote and issued the first legal opinion for a tax-exempt bond by a tribe. Manning became a frequent speaker on the subject after the Indian Tribal Government Tax Status Act passed in 1983. “A couple of years later, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act gets passed, so tribes had to get a gaming pact with their state,” he says. Minnesota and Wisconsin were some of the first ones to do it in the country. The Wisconsin Chippewas wanted to do a bond secured by gaming revenues for a healthcare facility.”

How to deal with sovereign immunity—particularly, when and how to waive it—as well as which courts have jurisdiction were among the early hurdles. 

In the mid-’90s, the tribal chairman at Fort Peck asked Manning for help with a right-of-way lease agreement. It involved the Northern Border Pipeline that ran gas from Canada through the reservation, and Manning was asked to analyze the previous lease agreement in regard to the company’s option for renewal, and to ascertain if the tribe’s compensation could be increased. In the years since, Manning and the firm have represented the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes in several matters.

“Another thing I worked on was a potentially significant oil and gas joint venture,” Manning says. “There had been a small venture in the past where nothing came of it, a decade went by, and somebody got control of the agreement and brought it to the tribe to renegotiate and expand. It was Bakken Formation stuff, before anyone had heard of that, so they were going to drill deep wells in the southeastern part of the reservation. They had big ideas for it, but the first well was not successful and it took the air out of the deal.” 

Manning appreciates the dichotomy between his securities practice, which can be repetitive, and his Native American law work. “Everything in Indian law is 20 percent different,” he says. “It’s a new and different challenge.”



Out of Bounds 

Manning, an All-Ivy defensive back, was on Dartmouth’s undefeated team in 1970 and is in the Montana Indian Athletic Hall of Fame. So it wasn’t a hard sell when a Dorsey trademark attorney came to Manning to consult on a pro bono effort: In 1992, a group of Native Americans challenged the Washington Redskins trademark in Pro Football Inc v. Harjo. “We won on the trademark office level and the district court level, but then it got reversed at the appeals [in 2005],” Manning says. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review it in 2009. Others have since tried to pick up the baton. “I have various views on it, but ‘Redskins’ is blatant and one of the worst ones.”

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