Jesse Taken Alive: In Loving Memory

Ed Schafer

North Dakota lost a good leader in 2020 upon the death of Jesse Taken Alive. 

I [wrote] this on Martin Luther King Day and [contemplated] what good leadership is all about.  Out of the downward vortex of mistreatment, broken promises, darkness, anger and hurt on the Standing Rock Reservation, Jesse Taken Alive emerged as a strong and gentle leader.  He led peaceful but relentless efforts to bring about change for his people. The person I came to know as Jay carried deep in his heart his Sioux heritage and culture and worked hard to better the lives of those who chose him to lead.

Jesse did not get discouraged and faced difficult problems with grit and a smile. A servant leader and prayer warrior, he sought not to knock down others who were oppressive and bigoted, but to lift up his people to equal standing and change others through love and kindness.  Jesse Taken Alive was a people person. 

As Chair of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, he negotiated and signed the first ever Government to Government compact with the State of North Dakota. I was privileged to work with him on that effort.  Jesse carried his core values and high character to the conference table and was clear about how our separate governments should be working together. His mission was to improve the relationships between Indian Country and the Capital and he was willing to have difficult discussions while looking for positive outcomes.  Even when we had disagreements, he always left the meetings with a hearty laugh, a pleasant hand shake and a bidding of good wishes.  Eventually his perseverance led to an agreement that was good for both. Jesse’s leadership example should be an inspiration for all of us.

On the wall in my office in the Capitol building in Bismarck hung a drawing of a father and son standing over a grave on which lay an eagle feather headdress. The caption reads, “Don’t cry son, don’t cry for a man; just be glad you knew one.”   I am glad I knew Jay Taken Alive.