Sidebars

Bree Black Horse: I Am Here

November 01, 2021 Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP Season 1 Episode 11
Sidebars
Bree Black Horse: I Am Here
Show Notes Transcript

Bree Black Horse (Indian name: Prized Woman) is an enrolled member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. A self-described “legal warrior,” she focuses her practice on Native American affairs & litigation, and is admitted to numerous tribal courts.

Bree’s legal career spans a variety of roles and experiences, including working on a wide range of cases, both criminal and civil. In addition, she worked as a youth advocate and case manager for United Indians of All Tribes Foundation, where she worked with formerly homeless young adults in transitional housing. She also served as a judicial extern to Chief Judge Theresa M. Pouley in the Tulalip Tribal Court, a legal clerk in the Office of Tribal Justice at the U.S. Department of Justice, and a law clerk to the Hon. Brian M. Morris in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana.

Bree’s work has garnered many recognitions and awards. In 2021 and the three years immediately preceding, she was recognized as a Washington “Rising Star” for Native American Law by Super Lawyers magazine. Bree was also recognized in 2022 as one of the "Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch" for Native American Law by The Best Lawyers in America®. In addition, Bree received the Public Service & Leadership Award from the Washington Young Lawyers Committee of the Washington State Bar Association in 2019 & the “40 Under 40” Award from the National Center for American Indian Economic Development.

Bree grew up steeped in Tribal traditions, culture, and art. Regularly attending powwows – and performing in them – she listened to tribal elders as they discussed the issues and concerns facing Native American communities. Realizing that many of these matters have legal aspects, she decided that she could best serve her community by becoming a lawyer. In this episode, Bree tells us how her career journey is inextricably linked to the unimaginable suffering that Native Americans have endured since the United States was formed and how her people’s history forged her determination to conquer adversity, stand tall, and be counted.    

  • From Powwow to law school (3:15)
  • A mother’s wish comes true (04:25)
  • Power Royalty and public speaking (05:43)
  • The Nordstrom gig that helped support a family, build leadership skills, and pave the way to law school (08:44)
  • Stepping into a brand-new world (12:20)
  • A bracing dose of straight talk (14:14)
  • The gift of adversity (17:53)
  • Serving the law-school community and leaving a mark (21:00)
  • Being the only Native American person in the room; representing a people who experienced government-led ethnocide and genocide (22:21)
  • The forced assimilation campaign against Native Americans and the Trail of Tears (24:40)
  • Becoming a legal warrior for Native American rights (31:02)
  • The power that comes from knowing who you are (32:45)
  • Finding multiple opportunities to serve the community as a lawyer (35:08)
  • Impact litigation through the ACLU (38:47)
  • The epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women (40:37)
  • The disproportionate service of Indian veterans (49:28)
  • The opportunity inherent in being the first or the only (53:10)

**The opinions expressed are those of the attorneys and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm or its clients. This podcast is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.**

Bree Black Horse:

Yeah, my mom said that in some cases I would be the only native person that some people, would ever meet, which continues to be the case and that I needed to represent our people well. And in a good way,

April Abele Isaacson:

Welcome to Sidebars Kilpatrick Townsend's limited podcast series focused on women in patent law. I'm April Isaacson , a patent litigator and partner in the San Francisco office.

Kimberlynn Davis:

And I'm Kim Davis, a patent prosecutor and partner in the Atlanta office. We're here to discuss the gender gap in the patent bar and have candid conversations with female patent practitioners on their career paths.

Speaker 3:

Welcome back to Sidebars. I'm April Isaacson today in honor of American Indian heritage month. Kim and I are interviewing Bree black horse Bree as an enrolled member of the Seminole nation of Oklahoma. She focuses her practice on native American affairs and litigation, and is admitted to numerous tribal courts. Brie has experience in a wide range of cases, including criminal and civil proceedings. Brie served as a law clerk to the honorable Brian M. Morris in the United States district court for the district of Montana in great falls, Montana while attending Seattle university school of law, Brie was co-founder and editor in chief of the American Indian law journal and president of the native American law students association. Bree has worked as a youth advocate and case manager for United Indians of all tribes foundation, where she worked with formerly homeless young adults in transitional housing, where he also served as a judicial extern to chief judge Theresa and pulley in the Tulalip tribal court. And as a legal clerk in the office of tribal justice at the United States department of justice, Bree has been recognized as a Washington rising star and for native American law by super lawyers magazine. She was also recognized in 2022 as one of the best lawyers ones to watch for native American law. Bree was a recipient of the public service and leadership award from the Washington young lawyers committee of the Washington state bar association, and as a 40, under 40 by the national center for American Indian economic development. Bri , we are so honored to have you with us for this very special episode. Welcome to sidebars.

Bree Black Horse:

Thank you. And I'll go ahead and introduce myself in my native language. My Indian name is prized woman in my English name is Bree black horse.

April Abele Isaacson:

Well, you certainly are a prized woman, and I will say that all those accolades that I read and what you've accomplished thus far in your career is just absolutely phenomenal, which leads me to ask the question. What made you decide to be a lawyer in the first place?

Bree Black Horse:

Thank you. So I grew up going to powwows and art shows with my parents who are both accomplished native artists. And while at those , mostly powwows and , while also at different ceremonies, you know, I'd hear various tribal elders and other tribal people speak about the different issues , facing Indian Country, which often had legal implications and talking about court cases and court decisions and laws that, you know , affect Indian country. And so I saw that as the best path that I could put myself on that could best serve my community.

April Abele Isaacson:

I understand that you have a sister.

Bree Black Horse:

I do. And my sister is a medical doctor , currently working at Virginia Mason in Kirkland, Washington.

April Abele Isaacson:

You have a lawyer and a doctor in the family. Was there anything, when you were younger that your parents talked to you about in terms of what would be your career paths?

Bree Black Horse:

Yes. And this, a lot of his influence comes from my mother, Catherine Blackhorse, who told my sister and I, by beginning at a young age that, you know, when we were born, she dedicated us to creator and to serve our communities and contribute to our communities in a way that best fits with our gifts. So my sister is really good at math and science and always has been, so my mom, you know , suggested she should be a doctor and often referred to her beginning at a little age as Dr. Black Horse. And for me, my mom noticed that I had, you know, a gift in writing and communicating ideas. And so she thought it would be great for me to be a lawyer and referred to me as a Judge Black Horse, when we were little,

Kimberlynn Davis:

I love it. She , she spoke it into existence for both your sister and you, but that's absolutely beautiful. So, so your sister strength, or it was more in the sciences, what were your strengths and how did you play those out growing up?

Bree Black Horse:

So I think my strengths would be, I've always been very resourceful and determined even though public speaking continues to make me nervous. I was able to speak publicly and beginning at a young age when I was at powwow royalty. So as powwow royalty, you either run for the title or you're selected by a committee. And then for the next year, you travel around to different powwows and Indian Country events. You're representing your , your organization or your p owwow. And as part of those duties during grand entry, which is, the dancing that opens up a p owwow, y ou introduce yourself and where y ou're from and who you represented sometimes in front of hundreds of people, sometimes in front of thousands.

April Abele Isaacson:

How old were you when you had to start doing the introductions as part of grand entry,

Bree Black Horse:

13 or 14. I believe I was in middle school.

Speaker 3:

Basically you as a 13-year old were having to speak publicly in front of hundreds, if not thousands of people.

Bree Black Horse:

Yes. And, you know, my mom always had the expectation that we would represent our tribe. Well, our family, well, and Indian people in a good way. And I know at 13, 14, that might sound young, but I was often not the youngest, powwow royalty that would be in the lineup doing introductions. You have tiny tot royalty sometimes, but you're as young as 3, 4, 5, 6 years old. So I figured, you know, if they could do it and do it well, so could I. Absolutely. And I'm thinking about the confidence that you were able to build during that process. And you mentioned that it may seem a little bit young. I don't believe it seems young at all. I love the fact that your mom instilled certain values in your sister and you early on, and we're looking at it blossomed today, right? So a note to our listeners speak those things into existence because Bree is living proof that it happened . And another great thing about how I was, I started powwowing when I was in third or fourth grade, and you'd have to get out there and dance your category in front of everybody. And sometimes you would, might be the only dancer. So you have to get up and dance in front of everybody. Or, you know , these were competition powwow, a lot of the time, and if you were in a tie, you'd have to go out there and do a tiebreaker dance, you know, with the other dancer you're tied with in front of everybody. And so you have to have developed confidence and self-assurance in order to do that.

Kimberlynn Davis:

So Bree tell, tell me about growing up and the actual decision when, so your mom has been speaking to this Judge - Judge, you're going to do it, come on, Judge Black Horse I'm with you. And then what was the point at which you decided, okay, I'm actually going to go for this. I'm going to apply to law school and do everything that , has been spoken into my life.

Bree Black Horse:

Yes. The plan to apply to law school beginning of high school. So I did the Running Start [program] at Bellevue Community College. And actually from the time I was 15 and a half. So when I could legally work in Washington till the time I was 21, right before I started law school, I worked either part or full-time at Nordstrom in Bellevue and in the flagship Seattle location. And while doing that, I went to college full-time as well and finished in three years because I knew where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do and was just trying to get college out of the way. So I could apply to law school.

April Abele Isaacson:

Just going back a little bit. What was it, do you think that your mother saw in you in particular that made her think that you're dedicated to the creator in terms of legal advocacy, for example, and calling you Judge Black Horse?

Bree Black Horse:

I think it's my inclination to serve. So I've always, you know , helped my family out. So part of the reason I got a job is so that I could help my parents financially, you know, being artists and 20 years ago at this time, sometimes it's chicken and sometimes it's feathers. And so, you know, I had income, pretty good income coming in as a salesperson at Nordstrom. So I was able to help my family and then even, you know , in high school college and to this day, I , helped my family, whether it's, you know , like building my mom a deck or working with them at shows and helping out at the booth.

April Abele Isaacson:

Is there anything about , uh, first of all, I love that you worked at Nordstrom, which actually is a very Seattle company. Is there anything about that experience doing sales that helped you in terms of advocacy, for example, or just connecting with people?

Bree Black Horse:

Yeah. So in, in that job, I had developed , so many great skills that continue to serve me to this day. So I immediately have to approach a customer and make a connection with them strong enough that they'd want to trust me with the issue that they had or why they were in the store and I'd have to listen to. So I could hear, you know , what they were trying to communicate in terms of like their needs and their parameters, and be able to translate that to the product I had available on the floor. And it also taught me to work with, I worked with all women in my department, but with a wide variety of women at all different stages of their life. And then, because I'd been there so long, I would, you know , sometimes be in charge - so a little bit of management skill as well,

Kimberlynn Davis:

Good deal, and definitely skills and learning to balance it. All. You finished school in three years, rather than four while working.

Bree Black Horse:

I did, because I'd take classes during the summer at Bellevue Community College, I went to undergrad at Seattle Pacific University, but during the summer, because math and science were not my strongest aspects. I, I take those at the community college

Kimberlynn Davis:

Smart, resourceful. Didn't you say you were resourceful?

April Abele Isaacson:

And the math and science were, were, were left for her sister. So I love it.

Kimberlynn Davis:

There you go. So, so it seems that you were adequately prepared going into law school, right? You, you knew how to advocate for yourself and for others, you definitely had strong communication skills. You, you definitely had the work-life balance down, even though, I mean, arguably go into classes, isn't fun life, so to speak, but you get my drift. So tell us about law school. Did you have the wake up call, many of us had , uh, and realized that it was a different world or was it, was it more of a breeze for you?

Bree Black Horse:

No, I definitely, I definitely had a wake up call. So I started law school - I was 21 years old, just finished working at Nordstrom. And, shortly before I started, I found out that I had been awarded the Douglas R. Nash Native American Law Scholarship, which is a three-year full tuition scholarship that Seattle University gives each year to a Native American student. And so, y ou k now, that was a huge honor. And then, y ou k now, during my first few months at law school, it was, it was a bit overwhelming. I made a lot of really great friends to start, but, you know, everybody l ike knew what they were doing. They had family members that were lawyers, they had done all the research. They had these desk books and t hese study guides and study groups and all of it planned out and they had their t en-year plans of what they were going to do. And it was, it was kind of a shock to me. I had not been in an academic environment like that ever before. And about a few weeks before my first set of finals, u m, my 1L year in the fall, you know, I didn't have a car. So my mom, y ou k now, graciously agreed to like pick me up and take me home b ecause it was raining as it does in Seattle. And so, y ou k now, she picks me up at school and, y ou k now, I have all my books and everything, and we're in the car and I'm complaining about how hard law school is and like how overwhelming it is. And, you know, I don't know if I can do this. Everybody else knows what's going on. And my mom stops her car in the middle of the street. And she proceeded to then tell me that she didn't sacrifice everything that she had, y ou k now, throughout her life so that I could be sitting in her car on a full ride to law school, crying around about how hard it is. She said it's law school. It's supposed to be hard. And then she proceeded to go back through the generations beginning with my grandfather, who is the Seminole Nation m ember as well, who survived an Indian Boarding School and was the only one from the reservation to return from Korea. And she said he didn't sacrifice and survive and persevere so that you c ould be here crying around about how hard it is to be in law school, because that's a privilege. And then she went all the way back to my ancestors who survived the Trail of Tears from Florida to Oklahoma in the mid 19th-century. And she didn't say all of your ancestors, all those people didn't survive. Didn't persevere, didn't overcome horrible circumstances that you could be here crying around about how hard law school is. You know, i nstead you see this as an amazing opportunity, not only because you have this full ride, but you're going to get the skills in law school and become a lawyer and you'll be able to really, really serve your community in a meaningful way. And then she proceeded to tell me to get the F out of her car and not call her until I got my together. And so I w alked the rest of the way home in the rain. But as soon as I got back to my apartment, I proceeded to get my [act] together and come up with a plan. And I called her and r eported back. And it was a lot smoother after that,

April Abele Isaacson:

Before that, did you feel like you kind of had to go it alone, so to speak?

Bree Black Horse:

In a sense, I was the only Native person in my class and I was one of the youngest, but beginning on first day of orientation of law school, I, you know, made some really great friends who really helped me a lot and have actually continued to help and provide me great advice throughout my career.

April Abele Isaacson:

Because we talk about how important it is to have the network of people to, to really be there for you. It sounds like your mother took you back to really understanding that there's so much more than just you as an individual or you as a lawyer to who you are within this world. Is that, is that an accurate kind of mindset of how the shift went for you at that point?

Bree Black Horse:

Yes. And for me , uh , dropping out was not an option. Native students in higher education have one of the highest dropout rates. And my mom unfortunately did not finish college. And so she wanted to break that generational curse. So to say of , um, you know, not finishing your education, you know,

Kimberlynn Davis:

I love your mom's words. And I wrote it down actually is supposed to be hard. It's law school. I mean, I feel that we should get that. We should pull out the Cricut and we should print in by car or cut vinyl and put that so that all of us first year associates on up to senior partners can see that sometimes we get in this mindset that okay, if I'm not walking through it easily, it's not meant for me. And it's not worth it. Let me turn to something else, but no , no, no. It's a challenge. And you overcome it. So your mom's words, I mean, they resonate with me even now listening to you, repeat them. Do you still remind yourself of her words to this day where you are now?

Bree Black Horse:

Oh, yes. All the time. And I actually talked to my mother every day, but I've also learned and particularly, you know , doing this podcast reflected back throughout my career and education. And I really realized that, you know, adversity and struggle is a gift. It can be a gift. And you know, my mom also kind of raises that way when I was in sixth grade, she in the fall of sixth grade, she told me I was going to do cross country. And I said, I don't want to do cross country. And she said, did I ask you a question? Okay , guess I'm doing cross country. But then she went on to explain. Well, I was going to do cross country , like not only for, you know, your physical development, but so that you can learn to be mentally uncomfortable for an extended period of time, which is such a great skill to have. And particularly as a lawyer, because, you know , we all know that, you know, at times you have to be really mentally uncomfortable for a long period of time and learn, learn how to deal with that. I also grew up glacier climbing and the first time I climbed a mountain was with my dad. And that was Mount Hood in Oregon at - I think I was 15, 14 or 15 years old. And that's just shy of 12,000 feet with some very technical climbing. And, you know, we started out the parking lot at midnight, and then w e get up to about 10,000 feet at sunrise. And then I look around and you can see everything. And I k ind o f like freaked out. C ause you realized like how high you are, how steep it is, but you can also see like where you have to go. And, you know, my dad said, you know, we came up here to summit this mountain. I'm going to summit it. You can wait here and I'll be back in six hours or you can come with me and do w hat we came here to do. And I pulled it together and summited that mountain a few hours later with my dad.

April Abele Isaacson:

I love what you said about adversity and struggle as a gift because I find it sometimes very hard to explain to people who want to complain because you know, they didn't get two pairs of shoes for their birthday on , they only got one that having to struggle. I actually think it just builds character. And it sounds like your mom really instilled that in you. I know the, get the out of your car, my car. That sounds like something my mom would say honestly, when I was a kid, but I feel like you can sit around and feel sorry for yourself and crawl up in a ball on the couch, but what good is that going to do? Right.

Bree Black Horse:

Yeah. And I was never allowed to feel sorry for myself. And you know, that's a mindset, that's a perspective that has continued to serve me well throughout my education and professional career.

Kimberlynn Davis:

That's pretty Awesome. And , and it's another lesson I tell you, I've been writing everything down almost to the point. These will become mantras. I'm working on these affirmations and that one has turned into, I am comfortable with being mentally uncomfortable. We'll do something like that for that affirmation, but , um , moving on through law school. So, so let let's continue. So you, you had that mind shift , you know, you were able to reset your mind and your way of thinking about things with your mom. So tell us about law school post discussion.

Bree Black Horse:

Yeah. So I really loved law school. Um, you know, as you mentioned at the outset, I was very involved. I co-founded and served as Editor In Chief of the American Indian Law Journal. I was President of the Native American Law Students Association and I was also on Moot Court Board. And then while in law school, I also traveled to conferences promoting the school and the scholarship in the Native community. And part of the reason I became so involved is because my mother said, you know, the school has given you a great honor and a great gift in terms of that full tuition scholarship I received. And that I needed to honor that commitment. The school has demonstrated to Indian Country and Indian people. And I needed to represent that. Well, not only for myself, but for future recipients of the scholarships that the school would see, it was a worthwhile investment.

April Abele Isaacson:

Do you think that some of those ideas that go back even to when you were doing the powwows of representing more than just you and more than just your family, do you feel like that started to resonate with you when you were a teenager? Did it take some more of these kind of tough talks with your mom to , to get that really instilled?

Bree Black Horse:

I mean, I was always very, very conscious of that. You know, my mom said that in some cases I would be the only native person that some people would ever meet , which continues to be the case and that I needed to represent our people well. And in a good way.

April Abele Isaacson:

Did you, did you feel like that was a little bit of a burden in a way of something put on your shoulders or more of a gift?

Bree Black Horse:

I don't consider it to be a burden. I consider it to be a great gift and opportunity all the time. I am so thankful that I am here. The United States Government has spent the majority of the last 200 years waging a campaign of ethnicity and genocide against my people , um, through various federal policies, whether that was, you know, allotment or attempted assimilation by moving Indians off reservations, terminating tribes in the 1950s, sending tens of thousands of Indian children to boarding schools, to break them of their culture and their language and their heritage. And I just find it so empowering to know that I am descended for more years and from people who overcame the best efforts of the most powerful country in the world to dismantle and get rid of us.

Speaker 4:

Bree, you brought up a really sensitive topic, I'll say with the assimilation. And I say sensitive because a few colleagues and I have discussed how our groups that we identify with have handled this attempt at forced assimilation, how some of us have bought into it. Some of us have outright rejected it and some of us have gone through periods, right, where we feel we have to at one point, and then there's this turning point where we realize we no longer need to. You mentioned the history of forced assimilation. Can you really unpack that for the listeners so that they can have an idea more of what you're referring to?

Bree Black Horse:

Yes, I can. I can do that. So at the end of about the 1870s, the up until that point, the United States had a policy of moving , Indian people to reservations and policymakers and lawmakers for the United States. On one side, people sympathetic to Native people saw that reservations. Weren't doing well, that a lot of Indian people continued to live in poverty and that reservation economies weren't developing the way they anticipated. And then on the other side, people adverse to Indian interests were resentful of the fact that Indian tribes had these large reservations that were unavailable for white settlement and continued expansion westward. So that culminated with one of the worst pieces of legislation for Indian Country in the history of the United States, which was passed by Congress in 1887. And it's called the Dawes Act, the Allotment Act. And under this Act, the United States broke up reservations and allotted out to individual Indian people, a certain amount of acreage, and then , sold off for pennies on the dollar, the surplus land to white settlers. And the idea was that, well, if we can make Indian people, farmers like, you know, a lot of the other people moving west, you know, they'll do, they'll do just fine. And along with that is when you start to see Indian Boarding Schools becoming a more common practice, they dated back to the mid 19th-century. But , the federal government began taking that over in the late 1800s. And the idea was if you could take Indian children away from their families and their people and t heir, you know, traditional customs and practices and put them in a so-called residential school where they could only speak English, they had to wear their hair short. They had to convert to Christianity or Catholicism that in the words of the founder of the Carlisle Indian school, you could kill the Indian and save the man. And those schools continued until the mid 1930s, at which point the Bureau of Indian Affairs was operating over 3 26 residential schools, which were home to over 60,000 Indian children and Indian Country is still recovering from the effects of that.

April Abele Isaacson:

When you say the Carlisle School, are you referring to Carlisle, Pennsylvania? Yes. I grew up right there like that my high school was right next to Carlisle and my neighborhood had been a farm. But before that it was an Indian reservation and I used to go in the backyard and we actually, when we would dig to , to plant things, we would find arrowheads from back when it was at an Indian reservation, that's actually making me get chills.

Bree Black Horse:

Yeah. And the Carlisle school and the curriculum develop there served as a blueprint for the rest of the residential schools that would, that would come to pass after that, including Chemawa Indian School, which my father Terrance Guardipee. His grandmother attended and she told him that, you know, at night she'd sneak away and she'd go stand on the railroad tracks and the real homesick for her family and for her people. And she looked down those railroad tracks and know that somewhere down at the end of them, you know, it was her people was her family was her Homeland and that someday she would make it back there. And she did a lot of her friends didn't. She said, when they died, they just buried him , you know, near the school or often these residential schools had a lot of sexual abuse , um, uh , both the male and female students. And they bury the unwanted babies on the grounds as well.

April Abele Isaacson:

Earlier you mentioned the Trail of Tears. I know people are familiar with Seminole in terms of Florida, maybe not as much with Oklahoma. Can you talk a little bit about the Trail of Tears for our listeners to make sure they understand how significant that was?

Bree Black Horse:

Yes. So beginning in the 1820s, the United States was continuing to expand and the United States had entered into treaties and agreements with various tribes and Georgia, Alabama, Florida, that area of the country, but there was immense pressure to open the up that land for white settlement. So the United States Congress passed the Indian removal act, which forced the removal of the so-called five civilized tribes. So Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Creek peoples are all forced to march. And in the case of my people, Seminole nation , in the middle of winter, across the country to Oklahoma at which the United States have made their new homeland. And it's not called the Trail of Tears because the Indian people who were being removed from their ancient homelands or ancestral homelands were crying. It's because white occupants along the trail of tears would often cry and be emotionally moved by the sight of it. And thousands of people died along the way,

Speaker 3:

The Trail of Tears, Carlisle school, all these things. And just say , I can't put myself in your shoes, but it seems like to me, I was thinking about you this morning. It's like every cell of your body is, is who you are. And I am here. And I look at the fact that you got this tremendous opportunity to have this legal education, and now you're doing amazing things with it. And it's all goes back. Like you said, generations of people who have suffered and descended from warriors. I love that as well. Yeah. I mean, maybe it's like, you're the legal warrior, right? You're the descendant of all these warriors.

Bree Black Horse:

Yeah. And I do see myself as kind of a Legal Warrior as Native people go out and fight and do all the stuff we would have done 150 years ago. But for me, you know, there's an opportunity to fight for my people and our sovereignty and our inherent authority , uh , our resources and children, you know, in a different forum. And that would be the legal forum. And for Indian people, you know, everything's a fight and everything has been a fight and it continues to be, to be a struggle. But I do think that it's a struggle that we are winning as tribes achieve, you know, more and more economic self-sufficiency more and more sovereignty. The acquisition of more tribal ancestral lands for their protection of sacred sites and achievements that continue to build on Indian country. And that will benefit, you know , all of our descendants for generations to come.

April Abele Isaacson:

Just so much to think about. Cause I'm thinking I am here. This is who I am. And it's almost so profound. It's hard to ask questions in a way. I have to be honest to get Kim and I, but the two of us speechless, oh, go ahead. Go ahead. No, no. Cause I'm thinking it's I am here, but this is, this is who I am. Right. I mean it's because it goes back to the thing and tell me if I'm wrong. I just really got the sense when we did the pre-call that like every of your body is who you are and I am here. Is that accurate?

Bree Black Horse:

Yes. And being a native person is the foundation of my identity. And I think has given me a unique sense of self purpose and determination that I would otherwise not have. I don't know who I'd be if I wasn't, you know , a Native person and raised with the privilege and opportunity to power, to participate in our traditional ceremonies and to travel around ending country, beginning at a young age with my parents and not all Native people have that opportunity, whether as a result of, you know, not living near tribal communities, I'm very fortunate that in the Pacific Northwest, there is a heavy tribal presence. So it's very easy to go find a powwow and go to a powwow and, you know , engage in those traditional practices. But not everybody grew up with that. And because of Indian Boarding Schools and then, you know, assimilation and concerted attack on, you know , Native traditions and practices , the United States, government and other institutions, some of those traditional ways and customs have been lost forever. And so I consider it such a privilege that I'm still able to participate in all of that and that we still have a lot of our traditional ways and practices because you know, not everybody gets to enjoy those.

Kimberlynn Davis:

And , and with all of the privileges that you just outlined. And I love that you characterize those as the privileges and you recognize that, right. That it is a privilege to be able to be so connected. What I love about you Bree is that you understand that with that privilege comes great responsibility, and you've lived up to it in so many ways. I'm sorry. I know your history, I know your background, but, or you've shared with me some of your paths since law school. Can you just, and I know it would probably take a full hour, but can you unpack for the listeners some of the very important cases and even positions , job opportunities that you've held since law school that have brought you to where you are today and how you're able to advocate for so many Native people.

Bree Black Horse:

So after graduation, you know, I had a couple of different opportunities all through legal opportunities. So that's when I went to go work for United Indians of All Tribes Foundation at their Labateyah Youth Home in Seattle. And as you mentioned at the outset, you know, helping formerly homeless, young adults in transitional housing, able to acquire, you know, the education life skills and work experience necessary to then achieve stable housing. And then while I was in that position, I got a phone call from a friend I had made while I was in DC at the Department of Justice , uh , my 2L summer. And he said that he knew of a Federal Judge that needed clerks on short notice because he had recently been appointed to the bench by President Obama. And I thanked my friend immensely. And then I followed up on that and I needed to like submit my application like the next day. And then I actually asked my current boss Rob Roy Smith for a letter of recommendation. And now that I know how busy he is, I really appreciate that he was able to turn around one same day for me so I could apply.

April Abele Isaacson:

I think that says a lot about you.

Bree Black Horse:

And then four months later, I moved to Great Falls, Montana to clerk for U.S. District court, Judge Brian Morris, which was an amazing opportunity. It was again challenging for me at first, but you know, my mother's words, you know , still bring true that I needed to figure it out and do a good job and represent Indian people well, and in our particular court, because of the way criminal jurisdiction operates in Indian Country, the Federal Court, as opposed to the State Court had criminal jurisdiction over five different Indian Reservations in Montana. So our docket at the time was very criminal heavy. And then we're talking everything from white collar mismanagement of federal funds to rape, vicious assaults, murder, child abuse, and , and so forth. And from that position, I moved back to Seattle, practiced at a small boutique Indian law firm in Seattle for four years. And I did a lot of work for tribal clients, all kinds of different stuff, but I also did a lot of civil rights work in particular representing the families of Native people who had either been killed by police or had died in jail as a result of medical neglect, or lack of healthcare resources. And those cases were particularly difficult because, you know, you realize the implicit and explicit biases that still exist in all stages of our, not only our criminal justice systems, but the civil justice systems as well because before Washington passed some of its recent law enforcement reforms in response to the murder of George Floyd, you know , it was a very, very hard to get justice on the civil side, let alone the criminal side for these families whose loved ones had been killed. I police officers and there , they were often unarmed not threatening anybody and experiencing a mental health crisis.

April Abele Isaacson:

You recently filed an Amicus brief for a particular matter. Can you talk about that?

Bree Black Horse:

Yes. So I do a lot of work with ACLU, Washington. I'm, I've been chair of the ACLU Washington Legal Committee for few years now. And one of the cooperating attorney matters I worked on was an Amicus brief on behalf of Lisa Earle . And her daughter was fatally shot by the Tacoma police in 2016. And her daughter was not suspected of any crime. She was not armed. She was not threatening anybody at the time of her death. Her daughter was an enrolled member of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and was pregnant at the time to call police fatally shot her. And the issue we filed the Amicus on dealt with public records because the city of Tacoma had failed to disclose all of the records regarding the incident. And in the Amicus brief, we argued that in this case - the statute of limitations on the public records act fosters government transparency and accountability, particularly when it comes to examining the actions of law enforcement. And we also highlighted out the long history of state sponsored violence against native people in the United States, as well as current statistics that show Native people continue to disproportionately experience racialized policing throughout our state of any racial group in the United States, Native American people are the most likely to be killed by police officers

April Abele Isaacson:

We're speechless again.

Bree Black Horse:

And some of the other advocacy that I've done over the past few years pertains to the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW) this nation is currently facing. So it's been in the news increasingly over the past couple of years, but it's not anything new native women have experienced violence and sexual violence for 500 years, but it's particularly bad , um , in Indian country, in part as a result of the racialized jurisdictional scheme, that governs crimes in Indian country. So for instance, for native women, between the ages of 14 and 24 murder is the third leading cause of death for a native woman. My age between 25 and 34 murder is the fifth leading cause of death. In some native communities, native women are murdered at a rate 10 times higher than any other ethnic group in the United States. Four out of five Indian women will experience violence during their lifetime and more than half will be sexually assaulted. And as a result of the United States Supreme court decision in 1978 in the matter of Oliphant v. Suquamish Tribe - there is nothing a tribal court can do to a non-Indian perpetrator who assaults or murders, a native woman and statistics show that the vast majority of violence perpetrated against Indian woman is by non-Indian men.

April Abele Isaacson:

Bree, if you had one thing that you wanted our listeners to take from this conversation we're having today, what would it be?

Bree Black Horse:

So I spoke at a conference on the MMIW issue last Friday, and it was a , the Federal Bar conference for the Eastern District of Washington, which there is a huge MMIW issue and so much show that some people have theorized that in the 80s and 90s, there was actually a serial killer on some of the Indian reservations, because there've been so many missing and murdered indigenous women whose cases often go unsolved and uninvestigated. And you know, this room was 85% white male, which working in Indian law is not something that, you know , I often walk into. So it's a little bit shocking when I did, but the number of people that came up to me and have sent me emails since that said they had no idea that this was happening or that this was something affecting our community was shocking. So for instance, in 2016, over 5,700 native women were reported missing or murdered in the United States, but only 116 of those made it into the DOJ database. And part of the issue is that native people have been invisible for so long in the media, you know , in our schools and our education systems throughout different institutions. And, you know , and that narrative is changing and we've either been invisible or we're left in teepees in the mid 19th century on the Plains . And there's not enough education or awareness of what tribal nations and tribal people are doing today. And not only our tribal nations and tribal people doing things that better tribal communities, but benefit the larger community as a whole, specifically in the Pacific Northwest, all the efforts tribes make to protect natural resources and lands and so forth. So I, so I guess, I guess what I would say is take time to educate yourself on tribal nations and tribal people are maybe the people who once were where you live or who are now there,

April Abele Isaacson:

To my point where I said, I grew up right near where the Carlisle School was. The other thing I was thinking when you were talking about all these horrific statistics is then meanwhile, you have, let's just be honest, a blonde white girl who goes missing when she's doing van life and then there's specials on every single network about it. And you just see the kind of vast comparison.

Bree Black Horse:

So that was actually one of the slides. My presentation was a picture of Gabby Petito, whose case was aggressively investigated by multiple law enforcement agencies. And she was found within eight days of , um , I think being reported or going missing. And then on the same slide, I had a picture of three other Indian women who had either been murdered or gone missing in Wyoming, which is where Gabby's body was found. And between the year 2000 or 2010 and 2020, over 710 indigenous people in Wyoming were reported missing or murdered, even though Indian people in Wyoming make up less than 3% of the state's population, they account for over 20% of the murder victims in the state. And a report found that there is very little coverage of missing or murdered native people. And then when they do, when media outlets do cover their stories, they are more likely to be portrayed in a negative light and to use violent language when describing them. And so one of the issues that I pointed out was comparing this missing white woman syndrome to very explicit and implicit biases in media coverage.

Kimberlynn Davis:

Absolutely Bree , there are amazing parallels between the Native people and Black American people here , here today many times, and it really hits home. You don't think it'll happen this way, but it hits home when you're watching the news. And you realize they're talking about someone, you know, I was watching the news with my son, my oldest son. He said, mom, that's my summer camp teacher up there. She was speaking about her missing sister. Her sister has been missing now for over a year. She is begging she's pleading for people to even launch an effort to attempt to look for her, her cries go unnoticed because you know what happens? You look up at the TV, you see a black woman, right. And it's like, oh yeah, that that's , that that's there every day. It, it really doesn't matter. So what I love is that we're now what you're doing. You're bringing more visibility to the issue I admit to you Bree . And I don't know if it's an issue of being so, so immersed in self in your own issues, right? So I'm so caught up right now in the issues that are impacting me in my world, in my family and my sons, my black sons that I'm raising and the fears of allowing them to go anywhere. I mean, let , let me share this with you guys. I didn't want to go on vacation this summer because I was literally afraid to get in the car with my black husband and my two black sons we'd be pulled over in my mind, something terrible was going to happen. Right. So we're so caught up in what's going on with us. Bria had no clue. So thank you for bringing visibility to the issue so that we know there is that call and that we can do something about it. We can make a change, we can get involved in the efforts. So I appreciate you for sharing your story on this level, but I appreciate your question to see what action item, because , um , um , I guess I'm over the lip service in terms of, oh, I feel for union to know what L let's talk about an action plan at this point. So now what ,

April Abele Isaacson:

There's a few things, number one, I was going to do this off, off tape, but I'm just going to do it here because the thing I was thinking is that I've always supported veterans rights and I really support pro bono efforts in that regard. So I'm thinking that I will coordinate with Bree for something that I can do within the Indian community. Um, in terms of, of veterans rights, it's something small that I can do that has something I can relate to in a sense of being a veteran and making that connection. But I feel like we all have to try to do things to move all of these issues forward. And the thing that struck me and I'm sure Kim, as well is the use of the word privilege, because you said that doing powwows and things like that is a privilege . And let's be honest. We have a lot of people in this world and in this country that have a lot of privilege, and they're the ones that are complaining and whining about things. And they're not, they don't have the sense of self purpose and determination that you talked about. So I just want to kind of open that can of worms to some extent.

Bree Black Horse:

Before I answer that. And , um, the veterans issue is actually super relevant to Indian Country. So war after war Indian people have disproportionately volunteered to serve our country. You know , whether it's World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and since then, and veterans hold a very special, sacred place in Indian country. So for instance, at a powwow at the beginning of Grand Entry, which is when all the dancers come in and a very specific order, you know, you'll have the flags at the very front, the United States flag, the Canadian flag to recognize First Nations people. That's what Indians in Canada are called. And often the tribal flag of if you're on a reservation or if it's affiliated with a specific tribe, you'll have theirs. And then only veterans and the staff, but only veterans usually can carry those. And then after right behind the flags, you'll have all the veterans. And what I really appreciate about powwows and native culture when it comes to honoring and recognizing our veterans is that to dance in the front in the most important honored place, you, as a veteran, you don't have to be a native person. You can be a white person and, you know, dance up there with the veterans and be honored in that way. And everybody else is behind you and everybody in the audience has to stand for you. And then all veterans always have the opportunity to after grand entry and grand entry song and the flag song and per song and all that are sung , all the veterans have the opportunity to then introduce themselves and you know , where they're from and where they served. And everybody in the audience remain standing in honor of that .

April Abele Isaacson:

Wow. See, I already know that you and I are going to be connecting again, and there's going to be, there's going to be some powwow in my future, which I'm very excited about. I had absolutely no idea that was not, that was not a planted question at all for our listeners.

Bree Black Horse:

Yeah. And then, you know, when , if somebody , like, if you drop an Eagle feather, I'm on the dance floor, which is like really bad. So you always make sure your feathers are all tied down when you go out there. But that fallen Eagle feather is treated like a fallen soldier and there's a whole ceremony and song that happens when it's retrieved and veterans go and retrieve that feather. And they retrieve it like a fallen soldier and give it that kind of honor. But , um , you know , at least in powwow , their veterans hold a very sacred, special place and are recognized and honored in many different ways for the contributions that they have made to this country.

Kimberlynn Davis:

Well , I think a lot of times people don't really understand that the military in the United States, many of whom are enlisted. It is oftentimes the people that really don't have a lot of other opportunity and not only do they want to serve their country, but they also look for looking for opportunities for themselves and their families.

Bree Black Horse:

Oh and for native people, you it's, you know, you get to be a warrior and serve and protect your community, which is what we've been doing since time immemorial.

April Abele Isaacson:

Exactly.

Kimberlynn Davis:

Bree, you you've shared with us situations where you've been the first native person, often the only native person. What advice do you have for our listeners who find themselves in the situation where they're the first or the only, what , what can you share with them? I want to pull some of your mom's quotes right now. I just want to be honest, but I want to hear from you. And if that's to echo what your mom has shared with you, we would love to hear it.

Bree Black Horse:

So for me, being the first and being the only in a situation has oftentimes been an opportunity. It's been an opportunity to expand perspectives, change someone's biases or prejudices. Uh, it's been an opportunity to educate people on Native issues and Native people and to open up perspectives. And, you know, I really like being able to assert my Native privilege in whatever circle I'm in. You can keep your white privilege. I'm going to stick with my Native privilege. I love it. And that's the moment where we're like, well, I can say what we would say in my culture, but yes,

April Abele Isaacson:

The mic drop moment.

Kimberlynn Davis:

That's the moment I'm like, and there's nothing left to say nothing, nothing left to say Bree . I enjoyed every minute of it .

April Abele Isaacson:

I just want to thank you so much, Bree , thank you so much for taking the time with us. It's just been such an incredible story that will continue. And I know all of your excellent work will continue and I am very much looking forward to being up and to work with you on veteran's issues.

Bree Black Horse:

Thank you.

April Abele Isaacson:

Thank you for joining us today. If you enjoyed Sidebars, we invite you to check out the Kilpatrick Townsend Medicine and Molecules Blog at kilpatricktownsend.com to read, watch, and listen to other related insight on patent law. We'll also put that information in the show notes. The opinions expressed on this podcast are our own and are not those of Kilpatrick Townsend.

Kimberlynn Davis:

We would love it. If you would rate us or leave a review, it helps others find the show. See you next time.