The Kindred Spirits Choctaw Monument art installation in Midleton, Ireland, commemorating the Choctaw donation during the Great Hunger.

More than 170 years ago, the Choctaw Nation raised $170 to send to starving Irish families during the ‘’Great Hunger’’.

In 2017 a sculpture created by artist Alex Pentak was unveiled in Bailick Park County Cork to commemorate the amazing generosity of the tribe, itself poor. ‘’I wanted to show the courage, fragility and humanity that displayed in my work’’.

The Choctaw Nation is the third largest federally recognized tribe in the United States and the second-largest Indian reservation in area after the Navajo. As of 2011, the tribe has 223,279 enrolled members, of whom 84,670 live within the state of Oklahoma and 41,616 live within the Choctaw Nation's jurisdiction. The population of Eire currently stands at 5 million. 

As two (on the face of it) quite diverse cultures, it appears that the American Indian and Irish peoples have much in common in relation to their stereotypical national personality traits including humour, resilience, kindness and generosity. As a proud descendant of Irish grandparents these traits are an integral part of my own family culture and are additionally often borne witness to by the portrayal of the Irish people in popular media depictions.

It is estimated that one million Irish people, mainly poor tenant subsistence farmers, died of hunger or disease from 1845- 1849 and another million emigrated in that period or shortly afterward. This tragedy is often attributed to a blight on the staple diet of the impoverished Irish- the potato, but in reality, it was also due in part to mismanagement of exports produced by the tenant farmers (but not available for their use) and the controversial land mismanagement of British owners. It is argued that little was done by the British to ameliorate the unfolding tragedy and that some of the ruling class even felt that the famine was an act of providence sent to punish the Irish agricultural workers.

The Hunger was among the first humanitarian crises to be reported in the early days of global media which helped spur donations to Ireland from around the world. It is not surprising therefore that the ordeals of Native American tribes resonate in Ireland- both sets of peoples were negatively and tragically affected by poor decision making on the part of their ruling nation’s governments. 

Sixteen years before their generous offering to the Irish people, the Choctaws were the first tribe to be relocated by President Andrew Jackson during the Trail of Tears, starting in 1831. This coercive land grab and displacement of huge numbers of Indigenouus Americans with little thought given to their rights or safety resulted in thousands of deaths and many starving in the terrible winter conditions that coincided with the enforced Indian Removal Act. 

Years later, the Choctaws learned of the Irish potato famine and ‘’a great empathy was felt when they heard such a similar tale coming from across the ocean,’’ according to the Choctaw Nation’s description of its bond with the Irish. 

Choctaw people then gathered together $170 to send to Irish people in 1847, the equivalent of more than $5,000 today.

The Navajo nation had reported one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the United States. Indigenous communities already experience poor access to healthcare as well as significantly higher rates of diseases and lack of access to essential services/ sanitation. If access to emergency services becomes necessary, there is also the added struggle of language barriers and having little access to translators. Multi-generational housing and large gatherings to commemorate special events are also commonplace. The relevant information regarding pandemics is not easily accessible either, as it is unlikely that preventative measures regarding diseases and their natures will be translated into indigenous languages. 

It is estimated that one million Irish people, mainly poor tenant subsistence farmers, died of hunger or disease from 1845 to 1849, and another million emigrated in that period or shortly afterward.The famine was among the first humanitarian crises to be reported in the early days of global media, which helped spur donations to Ireland from around the world. It’s not surprising that the ordeals of Native American tribes resonate in Ireland- they have been through similar ordeals. 

The Choctaws were the first tribe to be relocated during the Trail of Tears, starting in 1831, with thousands dying and many starving.

Years later, the tribe learned of the Irish potato famine and “a great empathy was felt when they heard such a similar tale coming from across the ocean,” according to the Choctaw Nation’s description of its bond with the Irish.

Choctaw people then gathered together $170 to send to Irish people in 1847, the equivalent of more than $5,000 today.

The Navajo nation had reported one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the United States. Indigenous communities already experience poor access to healthcare as well as significantly higher rates of diseases and lack of access to essential services/ sanitation. If access to emergency services becomes necessary, there is also the added struggle of language barriers and having little access to translators. Multi-generational housing and large gatherings to commemorate special events are also commonplace. The relevant information regarding pandemics is not easily accessible either, as it is unlikely that preventative measures regarding diseases and their natures will be translated into indigenous languages. Irish fundraisers recognising how disadvantaged their old friends were as a result of the pandemic rallied to return the favour afforded to their ancestors by raising almost 2 million US dollars by May 2020 for COVID relief. 

Modern day Choctaw representatives have taken part in the annual Famine Walk in County Mayo, which commemorates the forced march in terrible weather by hundreds of starving people hoping for government relief. Irish visitors to the US have also walked the Trail of Tears to raise money for charity. 

These historical national tragedies resonate across the Atlantic Ocean and evidence the potential catastrophic effect of ruling classes discriminating against indigenous populations. The shared and reflective experiences also ensure a lasting bond of friendship and support exists between the two peoples and will do so for years to come. 

 

Irish Support for Native American Tribe Withstands Centuries