This 2013 file photo shows Jesse Taken Alive of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe testifying in Bismarck, N.D. Family members say the former chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe died in December after contracting COVID-19, not long after his wife passed away from the coronavirus. He taught Lakota culture and language at a school in his hometown of McLaughlin, South Dakota.
Tom Stromme--The Bismarck Tribune via AP
January 1, 2021 12:59 PM EST

(FORT YATES, N.D.) — The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota is prioritizing the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to those who speak Dakota and Lakota languages.

Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Mike Faith tells KXMB-TV it’s about keeping customs alive.

“It’s something we have to pass on to our loved ones, our history, our culture our language. We don’t have it in black and white, we tell stories. That’s why it’s so important,” Faith said.

The Standing Rock reservation straddles the North Dakota and South Dakota border and is home to about 8,000 people, more than half of whom live in North Dakota.

Faith said only about 300 people on the reservation are fluent in the language.

Frontline health care workers already have begun receiving he vaccine at the Fort Yates hospital, but starting next week priority will be for those who speak their native language.

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