Lakota Land and Sovereignty in the Contemporary Context


Organized by Dr. Tria Blu Wakpa and co-sponsored by UCLA's American Indian Studies Center and Department of World Arts & Cultures/Dance

This interdisciplinary panel discussion will feature Chase Iron Eyes, Tokata Iron Eyes, and Professor Frank Pommersheim to consider current possibilities for the LANDBACK movement. The discussion will highlight implications for Lakota sovereignty in regard to the Black Hills following the landmark Supreme Court case McGirt v. Oklahoma, which ruled in favor of tribal jurisdiction on treaty land in Oklahoma. It will also illuminate how Lakota peoples are rejuvenating struggles for the return of Indigenous land--from community organizing to legal strategies--that have been ongoing since the onset of colonization.


Chase Iron Eyes is an American Indian activist, attorney, politician, and a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. He is a member of the Lakota People’s Law Project and a co-founder of the Native American news website Last Real Indians. In April 2016 he announced his candidacy for the United States House of Representatives for North Dakota’s at-large congressional district. He lost to incumbent Kevin Cramer.

Tokata (Future) Iron Eyes is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and has been confronting injustice since she was 9, testifying against a uranium mine in the sacred Black Hills. Now at 16, she continues to demonstrate her commitment to compelling the world to listen to Indigenous Nations — from the NODAPL movement at Standing Rock to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women across the U.S. — she understands the power of media and utilizes her voice to evoke change in complacent hearts. She travels all over the world lifting the collective consciousness in response to the human-caused climate crisis.

Growing up on the Standing Rock and Pine Ridge reservations she has received both Western and Indigenous teachings, giving her the natural ability to relate to multitudes and share an uncensored perspective on the uncomfortable truths of colonization and capitalism. Tokata was recently featured on the Marvel Hero Project on Disney+, a series shining light on young people who are changing the world. She is also a singer, songwriter and recently began attending college in January 2020. Tokata hopes to inspire more youth from indigenous communities as well as around the world to use their voice and confront injustice.

Frank Pommersheim was born in New York City, but has lived in South Dakota for more than 40 years. Prior to joining the faculty in 1984, he lived and worked on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation for ten years. He currently serves on a number of tribal appellate courts throughout Indian country including Chief Justice for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Court of Appeals and Associate Justice for the Rosebud Sioux Supreme Court. Professor Pommersheim writes extensively in the field of Indian law. He is the author of Braid of Feathers (American Indian Law and Contemporary Tribal Life), Broken Landscape: Indians, Indian Tribes, and the Constitution, more than 40 law review articles, and more than 125 judicial opinions. His newest book entitled Tribal Justice: 25 Years as a Tribal Appellate Justice came out in 2015. Professor Pommersheim has received the University of South Dakota Belbas-Larson Award for Excellence in Teaching, the South Dakota Peace and Justice Center Reconciliation Award, and the John Wesley Jackson Award as the Outstanding Professor of Law. He has also been nominated for the University of South Dakota President's Award for Research Excellence. Frank is also a poet. His most recent chapbook is Local Memory and Karma (The Buddha Correspondence, Vol. 2). In addition, Frank is an amateur but avid bird watcher, who is well-acquainted with the works of Bob Dylan, and has played a lot of hoops all over this land.

Back to top