FORT YATES, N.D. (AP) — The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe 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.

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“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.

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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.

In addition to those who can carry on the culture, the next phase includes elders, law enforcement, tribal courts and the school system, tribal officials said.

Tribal Health Director Margaret Gates said the Lakota and Dakota speakers “are the most important asset to our tribe and people because of the language.”

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