Irish support for struggling Native American communities


The chief of the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma has welcomed Irish donations to help two tribes suffering in the Covid-19 pandemic as a sign of the solidarity between the two nations which dates back more than 170 years.

The funds are to be used to supply clean water, food and health supplies to people in the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Reservation.

During the Great Hunger in Ireland, when food was forcefully exported from Ireland to Britain while millions of Irish died or emigrated, the Choctaw Nation famously sent $170 to help support starving Irish families against the murderous policies of the British government. The money donated by the Choctaws was distributed in Ireland by members of the Quaker community.

Hundreds of Irish people have sought to repay that old kindness as part of a charity drive, first highlighted by Irish Times journalist Naomi O’Leary.

Many donors cited the generosity of the Choctaws, noting that the gift came not long after the U.S. government forcibly moved the tribe and several other American Indian groups from the southeastern United States. The march in the 1840s across thousands of miles known as the ‘Trail of Tears’ left thousands of people dead along the way.

During the Great Hunger of 1845-1849, Ireland had its own deadly marches when thousands of Irish men, women and children would travel long distances in a desperate search for food. It was in that context that the act of solidarity among suffering nations took place. A sculpture in County Cork now commemorates the act of generosity.

The organisers of the current fundraiser praised “acts of kindness from indigenous ancestors passed being reciprocated nearly 200 years later through blood memory and interconnectedness.”

Gary Batton, chief of the Choctaw Nation Oklahoma, said in a statement that the tribe was “gratified — and perhaps not at all surprised — to learn of the assistance our special friends, the Irish, are giving to the Navajo and Hopi Nations.”

“We have become kindred spirits with the Irish in the years since the Irish potato famine,” he said.

The Navajo Nation has had one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the United States. A high prevalence of diseases like diabetes, the scarcity of running water and homes with several generations living under the same roof have enabled the virus to spread with exceptional speed in places like the Navajo Nation, according to epidemiologists. The Hopi reservation is surrounded by the Navajo Nation.

“It’s great to know that we help them out at one point, now they’re helping back with that favor, so it’s awesome to know that type of history, and I’m sure will be reading about it, writing about it and teaching our young Navajo, younger generation about this connection,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

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