By Leslie Brown, Department of Public Defense
In 2016, five months after graduating from Pepperdine University, Natasha Frazier headed from her home near Washington D.C. to the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota to support the growing resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline.
She pitched her one-person tent on the reservation, assuming she’d melt into the ranks of the swelling movement. But she quickly found herself drawn to the work of several volunteer defense lawyers and eventually joined the legal defense team in Mandan, North Dakota, a 40-minute drive from Standing Rock.
Natasha spent 15 months in Mandan, a small city on the Missouri River, where she lived within walking distance of the Morton County District Courthouse. The work – assisting attorneys representing the hundreds of protesters swept up in mass arrests – mattered deeply to her. Both her father and grandfather are from the Cheyenne River Reservation, which borders Standing Rock, and Natasha is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. She felt moved to help defend indigenous people and their allies seeking to protect the traditional homelands of the Lakota Sioux.
Natasha also discovered that she excelled at defense work. And when she saw an announcement for a staff position at the King County Department of Public Defense, she decided to apply. Last year, Natasha moved from North Dakota to Seattle – her first time in the city – to begin her new job as an investigator in one of DPD’s four divisions.
“I went to North Dakota to camp and ended up with a career,” Natasha said, smiling.
The transition proved virtually seamless. According to Ryan Gray, her supervisor, “She has a much deeper understanding of the job than would be expected given her experience.”
As an investigator, Natasha works on both misdemeanor and felony cases, interviewing police officers, eyewitnesses, toxicologists, and more. In her first year alone, she interviewed more than 250 witnesses, locating them in homeless encampments, at motels, in jail, in homes, and in offices. She enjoys the work immensely, she said.
“With every case I work on I have the unique opportunity to examine a single event from the perspective of multiple people,” she said.
Because she interviews such a diverse array of people, she finds she has to think quickly on her feet, adjust her communication style as needed, and be both very focused but also open and friendly. “I love that every day is different,” she added.
Natasha has also taken on a leadership role at the county. Last summer, she became a member of the King County Native American Leadership Council, a forum for First Nations and indigenous people and their allies to build community, leadership, and cultural preservation.
“It’s been a great way to continue doing advocacy work,” she said.
Natasha was born in Anchorage, Alaska, and spent her childhood throughout the United States, in part due to her father’s work for Indian Health Service. After graduating from high school in Maryland, Natasha attended Pepperdine in Southern California on a Posse Scholarship, a full-tuition leadership and merit-based scholarship. The Posse Foundation recruits, trains, and funds young leaders to succeed in college, supporting them as they become social change agents on their college campuses and beyond. (President Obama donated a portion of his Nobel Peace Prize money in 2010 to the organization.)
After graduating from college with a degree in sociology, Natasha attended the 2016 White House Tribal Nations Conference as a youth delegate, where she and others discussed the historic nature of what was happening at Standing Rock. Natasha was horrified by the reports of violent arrests and confrontations coming out of Standing Rock. Two weeks later, she left D.C. for North Dakota.
It was a heady time. The hours were long. And as Natasha put it, “There was zero separation between my work life and personal life.”
Today, she said, she’s grateful to work in a large organization and to have a more balanced life. “But I’m glad for having had that experience in North Dakota,” she added. “It was intense and fast-paced, and it prepared me for the work I’m doing today, for the complexity and challenges of public defense.”