The Catawba Digital Economic Zone: A Native American SEZ

3 J. Special Jurisdictions 25 (2022)

23 Pages Posted: 13 Dec 2022

See all articles by Tom W. Bell

Tom W. Bell

Chapman University, The Dale E. Fowler School of Law

Date Written: August 21, 2022


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.

Keywords: Special jurisdiction; special economic zone; SEZ; American Indian; Native American; Catawba; digital commerce; fintech; cryptocurrency; blockchain

JEL Classification: F50, F63, F65, G20, G28, H70, H73, H77, O16, O20, O23

Suggested Citation

Bell, Tom W., The Catawba Digital Economic Zone: A Native American SEZ (August 21, 2022). 3 J. Special Jurisdictions 25 (2022), Available at SSRN:

Tom W. Bell (Contact Author)

Chapman University, The Dale E. Fowler School of Law ( email )

One University Drive
Orange, CA 92866-1099
United States
714-628-2503 (Phone)
714-628-2576 (Fax)


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