Abortion Rights and Reservation Politics in Young Lakota

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Women’s History Month offers the opportunity to shine a spotlight on often overlooked contributions to culture. This March, UWE third-year BA Film Studies students are providing a series of weekly film reviews that showcase women’s lives globally. This week, Lydia Cooper reviews ‘Young Lakota’.

Sunny Clifford and Brandon Ferguson in a shot from Young Lakota Dir. Marion Lipschutz and Rose Rosenblatt, ITVS, 2013

Young Lakota is an inspiring, and at times brutal, documentary about the struggle of Native American women to have their voices and opinions respected within their own community, and within the United States at large.

Young Lakota focuses on three young people living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota during an election with abortion issues at the heart. At the beginning of the documentary, state officials in South Dakota propose a bill that would effectively ban abortion in all contexts, and when the Tribal President of the Pine Ridge Reservation, Cecilia Fire Thunder, publicly opposes this, announcing her plans to open an abortion clinic on the reservation, she is impeached.

During the next election for tribal president, twins Sunny and Serena Clifford throw their support behind Cecilia and her campaign, attempting to get information out to other residents. These moments of campaigning are particularly poignant as their frustration at the lack of care some in the community have for abortion issues is clear. Sunny and Serena’s neighbour Brandon Ferguson gets hired to work for the candidate opposing Cecilia, much to the disappointment of Sunny and Serena, who saw him as a pro-choice ally prior to this.

Although the film does largely focus on the campaign, directors Marion Lipschutz and Rose Rosenblatt scatter moments of the subjects reflecting on life on the reservation throughout the film, helping to contextualise the issues and conflict within the community. Although the low life expectancy, substance abuse and poverty that prevails over many reservations in the United States is often reported on, it’s good to see these issues being spoken about by people who actually live these experiences, and to contextualise these issues with the way the Native American community has been treated historically and today.

Although there are many shots of the beautiful surrounding landscape, most of the time we see the subjects in their cars, or inside their houses, cluttered with documents, leaflets and children’s toys. When we do see them together, outside with others from the reservation towards the end of the film, it is a refreshing change to the fractured community and relationships bringing Young Lakota to a more positive hopeful end.

Further viewing on Kanopy:

Personhood (2019) – Dir. Jo Ardinger

Argentina: My Body, Their Choice (2019) – Dir. Lucy D’cruz

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