BISMARCK — Jesse "Jay" Taken Alive, a former Standing Rock Sioux Tribe chairman and Lakota language and culture protector, died with COVID-19 earlier this week, multiple news outlets reported on Thursday, Dec. 17.

Taken Alive, who was 65 at the time of his death, was Standing Rock tribal chairman from 1993 to 1997. He died Monday, Dec. 14, only one month after his wife Cheryl Taken Alive also died after contracting COVID-19, according to multiple news outlets.

At least 23 people on the Standing Rock Reservation died due to COVID-19 complications between March and Dec. 14, according to the Standing Rock Incident Command.

Jesse Taken Alive was one of the key players in the multi-year battle for renaming the University of North Dakota's mascot from "Fighting Sioux" to "Fighting Hawks."

"When I go back to my childhood ... growing up all my years on the reservation, I looked at my great-grandparents, who could only speak our language. I looked at my grandparents, my parents, who taught me the beautiful language of Lakota," Taken Alive testified to the North Dakota Legislature in 1999. "I can't look at them and say that they are mascots."

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Taken Alive was a fluent Lakota speaker, according to the Historical Society of North Dakota. Only about 2,000 people worldwide speak Lakota, according to the Smithsonian Magazine.

"The language comes from the Creator, so it doesn't belong to one of us," Taken Alive said in a Lakota Language Consortium video. "The language belongs to all of us, so my message to all of the young people: ... This is your language. When you learn it, you're going to be able to learn more about this beautiful thing called life."

Taken Alive was also a fierce tribal sovereignty advocate, according to multiple news reports, and he ardently supported the 2016 protests against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Leander McDonald, president of United Tribes Technical College, said in a statement Friday that Taken Alive understood the importance of people embracing their culture and inspiring future leaders to do the same.

McDonald in the statement described Taken Alive as "always willing to help and be of service when called upon — a common man, an extraordinary leader, who shared words of wisdom, a prayer, or helped with a ceremony to assist others."

The family intends to hold a private service for both Jesse and Cheryl Taken Alive on Tuesday, Dec. 22, according to their obituaries.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com.