The Catawba Digital Economic Zone: A Native American SEZ

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Tom W. Bell


Special Jurisdictions, Digital Assets


The Catawba Indian Nation recently announced the launch of a new kind of special economic zone (SEZ) on its reservation lands in the Carolinas piedmont region. The Catawba Digital Economic Zone (CDEZ) aims to provide “A Jurisdiction Built for the Fintech and Digital Asset Industry.” Federal and state law affirms that the Nation has original and exclusive jurisdiction over two categories of disputes: those arising from contracts to which the Nation or its members are a party and those arising under any civil code that the Nation issues for the conduct of businesses and individuals on its reservation. Together, these give the Nation sovereign authority over commerce, real or virtual, that takes place on Catawba lands. The Nation has invoked this power to create the CDEZ. The Catawba General Council, a democratic assembly of tribe members, recently enacted the a civil ordinance creating a legal framework specially designed to support e-banking, cryptocurrency, non-fungible tokens, and other fintech and digital asset industries. This paper, written by one of a team of coders who worked on it, describes the origins, legal foundation, and basic structure of the CDEZ, the latest and most advanced example of a special jurisdiction focused on digital assets.

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