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PBS documentary features 3 young Lakota

By Dirk Lammers

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SIOUX FALLS (AP) — A documentary that was scheduled to debut Monday on PBS follows three young Lakota tribal members and their political awakening in 2006 when the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation was caught in the abortion debate.

"Young Lakota" focuses on Sunny Clifford, her twin sister Serena and friend and neighbor Brandon Ferguson. Although the 2006 abortion issue provides the backdrop, the one-hour documentary more broadly explores relationships, political activism, personal choice and discovering one's heritage.

Sunny Clifford was 21 when Marion Lipschutz and Rose Rosenblatt filmed "Young Lakota" on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 2006. Clifford, now 28 and living in California, said it helped her find her voice.

"I'm more certain of myself and have more confidence in my beliefs and values," she said in an interview Monday.

Lipschutz and Rosenblatt, who had teamed for a string of films on reproductive health and rights, had been working on a different film in 2006 when the Oglala Sioux Tribe council called an impeachment hearing to oust Oglala Sioux Tribe president Cecelia Fire Thunder.

South Dakota had just passed the nation's most restrictive abortion law, and Fire Thunder had proposed building a women's health clinic on the reservation because she was outraged over the proposed lack of exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

The Clifford sisters backed Fire Thunder and worked to fight the measure that was eventually defeated by voters that November.

Sunny Clifford said the issue of reproductive rights resonated with her, and she was appalled that lawmakers would try to tell her what she could do with her own body. She and her husband are expecting their first child in February, and she said she's happy to have a say in that timing.

"I had the opportunity to graduate from college. I'm a first-generation college graduate," Sunny Clifford said. "I feel good about being pregnant right now during this time in my life rather than if I was 17. I wouldn't have any idea what I was doing."

Rosenblatt said she and Lipschutz have received good feedback at film festivals, especially from Native Americans. They say the film has helped give them a voice and avoids becoming another piece of "poverty porn," a slang term for broadcasts that exploit poverty for entertainment's sake.

"They're very excited to see this film because they say it represents them in a very new and original way," Rosenblatt said.

The film premieres at 9 p.m. CST as part of the "Independent Lens" series and will also be available on iTunes.