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Bree Black Horse works as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and prosecutes cases of missing and murdered Native Americans in the Northwest.

Black Horse joined the office as part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s regional outreach program for missing or murdered Indigenous persons.

The focus is on collaboration between tribal, federal and state governments and other partners. She will pursue cases throughout the state of Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho and California.

In May, Black Horse was sworn in wearing traditional clothing at the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington.

At the ceremony she wore a traditional red wool dress.

“I wore this red dress to represent MMIP. That is often the color associated with this movement, with this cause. That is why I made this red dress a few years ago,” said Black Horse.

She also wore her war bonnet.

“I wanted to wear that too, as a sign of my commitment to this work and the community,” said Black Horse.

Her vestments also bear her mother’s signature.

“When she makes vestments for me, every bead she sews on, every stitch she makes in the fabric, is a prayer for protection and encouragement,” she said.

Black Horse said her work as a prosecutor focusing on missing and murdered Indigenous people cases was the highlight of her career.

“This could be a new and unique opportunity for me to not only meaningfully serve our tribal communities, but also address the missing and murdered Native crisis that we are currently experiencing and have been experiencing for a long time in Indian Country,” she said.

In Yakima, her hometown, the community is severely affected by the missing and murdered Native American crisis.

According to the Washington State Patrol, there are 122 active cases of missing or murdered Native Americans in the state as of May 2024. At least 31 cases have been reported in the Yakima Valley.

Black Horse said her role is made even more meaningful by her affiliation with the Native American community.

“I understand the life experiences of our MMIP victims, survivors and families. MMIP is something that has touched not only my community, but my friends and family, and it has done so across generations,” she said.

Black Horse said she has heard about the pain and heartache families have experienced in losing a family member or loved one, but also the frustration in seeking justice.

“They have also expressed their frustration with the criminal justice system and how long it can sometimes take for a case to come to court and be resolved,” Black Horse said.

She said explaining the steps of a federal criminal case can empower people during investigations and help improve communication with families.

“We place a high value on communication with survivors and families and try to prioritize it as much as possible, but often cannot talk about the specific progress of an investigation because we do not want to jeopardize any aspect of that investigation,” Black Horse said.

She explained that it was critical to ensure that cases were as compelling as possible when presented to a grand jury for indictment and to seek full prosecution.

Black Horse said jurisdiction was the most difficult challenge it faced.

“The criminal justice system in Indian Country is extremely complicated, and this is one of the factors that has historically led to this MMIP crisis that we are now experiencing,” she said.

She also said she is working with various state agencies to find ways to collaborate, including joint efforts to solve unsolved cases.

Bree Black Horse has just concluded her first criminal trial in federal court with a guilty verdict for assault with a dangerous weapon on Yakama Nation land.

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