The Standing Rock Sioux tribe is prioritizing COVID-19 vaccinations for people who speak native languages in an effort to keep customs alive

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The Standing Rock Sioux tribe is prioritizing COVID-19 vaccinations for people who speak native languages in an effort to keep customs alive
Native American tribal members march to celebrate the easement denial of the Dakota Access Pipeline in Canon Ball, North Dakota on December 4, 2016.Emily Molli/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
  • Health care workers on the Standing Rock reservation already began receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Next in line are members who speak the native languages of Dakota and Lakota.
  • The customs and history of the tribe are passed down through the native languages, so it's important to protect those who speak it, the chairman told local news station KXMB-TV.

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe is giving COVID-19 vaccine priority to those who speak the native languages of Dakota and Lakota, KXMB-TV reported.

Tribe Chairman Mike Faith told the station that native speakers are in line for inoculations, just behind health care workers. It's being organized this way in an effort to protect the customs and culture of the tribe, which passes them down orally.

"It's something we have to pass on to our loved ones, our history, our culture our language," Faith told the station last week. "We don't have it in black and white, we tell stories. That's why it's so important."

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The Standing Rock reservation straddles the North Dakota and South Dakota border,according to the Associated Press. About 8,000 people live on the reservation, which more than half residing on the North Dakota side, according to the AP.

Of them, about 300 people Fort Yates are fluent in the languages, KXMB-TV reported

The tribes Emergency Manager Elliott Ward told the local station the arrival of the vaccine has been a relief for healthcare workers. There was laughter and smiles when the first doses were distributed.

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Health care workers already have begun receiving the vaccine at the Fort Yates hospital. Elders, law enforcement, tribal courts and school employees will also be prioritized, the station reported.

"Our people have gone through these things before, Spanish flu, famine. We've always come through it and survived, so we'll survive this," Ward told the local news station.

Read the full story at KXMB-TV »

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