Former Standing Rock tribal chairman dies of COVID-19

Jesse Taken Alive of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe testifies in Bismarck, N.D., in 2013.
Jesse Taken Alive of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe testifies in Bismarck, N.D., in 2013 before the Task Force on American Indian Children Exposed To Violence.
(Tom Stromme / The Bismarck (N.D.) Tribune)

The former chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has died of COVID-19, about a month after his wife died from it, his family said.

Jesse “Jay” Taken Alive, 65, was hospitalized in late October and died Monday, according to his brother, Virgil Taken Alive. His wife, Cheryl Taken Alive, 64, died Nov. 11, according to an obituary.

Jesse Taken Alive taught Lakota culture and language at a school in his hometown of McLaughlin, S.D., until he became ill, his brother said. The students called him “Lala Jay.” Lala is the Lakota word for grandfather.


“He took a lot of pride in that,” Virgil Taken Alive told the Bismarck (N.D.) Tribune.

Jesse Taken Alive won a seat on the tribal council in 1991 and spent 24 years in tribal government, serving as its chairman from 1993 to 1997. He accumulated a lot of documents during that time and stored them in boxes at home, his brother said.

“He liked to hoard all this tribal council stuff,” Virgil Taken Alive said, recalling a recent day when the family wanted to clear some space in the basement. “His oldest son said to me, ‘I need your help because Dad won’t let us throw this stuff away.’”

Jesse Taken Alive advocated for tribes as they sought the return of the remains of ancestors, as well as artifacts taken from their graves that sometimes ended up in museums or in the collections of federal agencies after they were excavated.

His advocacy prompted Congress in 1990 to pass the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which spells out the process by which remains and items are to be returned to tribes.

The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border.