Independent Lens: Young Lakota

Updated Thu, Oct 31, 2013 10:54 am

Monday, November 25 • 10 p.m.

Young Lakota follows the emotional journey of Sunny Clifford, a young Lakota woman who returns to the Pine Ridge Reservation with a dream to change the world around her. Her political awakening begins when the tribe’s first female president, Cecelia Fire Thunder, defies a South Dakota law banning abortion by threatening to build a women’s clinic on the reservation.

Embroiled in a controversial political season that hinges on reproductive rights and tribal sovereignty, Sunny, her twin sister Serena, and their neighbor Brandon are drawn into a political firestorm that changes the course of their lives. Directed and produced by Marion Lipschutz and Rose Rosenblatt, Young Lakota premieres during Native American Heritage Month on Independent Lens.

Sunny Clifford, just back on the reservation after two years away at college, works as a clerk at the Kyle grocery store, living with her twin sister, Serena. The twins—who have both dropped out of college—dream of finding a way to help make things better on the reservation, but they don't really know where to start. Brandon Ferguson, who—like Serena—has young children, shares their idealism.

All three look up to Cecelia Fire Thunder, the first female president of their tribe, who challenges a South Dakota law criminalizing abortion, with no exceptions for rape or incest. The tribe is soon drawn into the divisive world of “abortion politics,” and Fire Thunder is impeached, setting off a chain reaction in the lives of Sunny, Serena, and Brandon.

A tumultuous tribal election to replace Fire Thunder and a state vote that defeats the abortion ban opens a political rift between the friends. Ultimately it is the complex interplay of personal choice, cultural, economic and political circumstance that will define who they are and what kind of adults they will become.