ON THIS day in 1847, members of the Native American Choctaw Nation began collecting donations to send to the starving people of Ireland.
This time 174 years ago, Ireland was suffering through the worst year of the ‘Great Hunger’, still known to this day as ‘Black ’47’.
During this time, an estimated one million people died, and a million more left Ireland forever, forging new homes most often in the United States. The population has still never recovered.
Across the Atlantic, Native Americans were faring little better: tens of thousands of them had been forcefully relocated from their homes, leading to an estimated 100,000 people marching on the ‘Trail of Tears’.
The Choctaw Nation had just recently settled in what is now Oklahoma after walking the “trail of tears and death”; they too had very little, but recognised their own plight in what was happening to Ireland, and were determined to help.
On 23 March 1847, the Choctaws took up a donation, raising approximately $170 ($5,000 in today’s money), and sent it to the town of Midleton, County Cork.
The Choctaw’s generosity and solidarity is something which has never been forgotten in Ireland; in 2017, a monument was erected in Midleton which paid tribute to thekindness shown by the Choctaw Nation in Ireland’s time of need.
The Kindred Spirits monument depicts nine 20-foot stainless steel eagle feathers arranged in a circle to form what looks like a bowl of food; it was officially unveiled by Chief Gary Batton of the Choctaw Nation on his historic trip to Ireland.
Leaders of the two nations have visited each other in the decades since the incredible gesture by the suffering Choctaw nation; in 2018, then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visited the Choctaw National tribal headquarters and paid tribute to the “sacred bond which has joined our peoples together for all time”.
In 2020, as the Coronavirus pandemic ravaged the globe, the people of Ireland took their chance to ‘repay’ the 173-year-old favour, as they donated in their thousands to a fundraiser by the Hopi and Navajo reservation, based in New Mexico, which had the highest per-capita infection rate in the United States.
A GoFundMe was set up to assist the vulnerable nations, which are in “extreme food deserts” with a third of people not having access to running water and with high numbers of at-risk residents.
The online appeal raised nearly nearly $6 million in total, with close to 27,000 Irish people donating online and by post to raise over $1 million between them, with many sending messages of support from the country which had been helped by the Choctaws almost 200 years prior.
The incredible act of kindness further strengthened the peoples’ ‘sacred bond’– one that will live on in much the same way the Choctaw Nation’s gift did all those years ago.