Irish Donate to Native Americans During Pandemic to Repay 170-Year-Old Debt

Getty Irish politician and president of Dail Eireann, Eamon de Valera (1882 - 1975, left), shakes hands with Native Americans during a visit to the United States in 1919.

Paybacks and karma don’t always have to be a bad thing. Sometimes a kindness your ancestors did 173 years ago can come back around when you need it most. This what the Navaho and Hopi Nations are learning as dozens of people from Ireland make donations to the Native American Tribes’ GoFundMe page for COVID-19 relief.

According to an administrator for the page, Vanessa Tulley, “Several of our recent donations for our GoFundMe campaign have been inspired by the Great Hunger Famine in Ireland which started in 1845.”

Tulley wrote:

Not long before the Great Hunger Famine in Ireland, 60,000 Native Americans, including the Choctaw people, had suffered through the experience of the Trail of Tears. The death of many people on the Trail of Tears sparked empathy for the Irish people in their time of need. Thus, the Choctaw extended $170 of relief aid. 173 years later to today, the favor is returned through generous donations from the Irish people to the Navajo Nation during our time of crisis. A message from Irish donor, Pat Hayes, sent from Ireland across the ocean: “From Ireland, 170 years later, the favour is returned! To our Native American brothers and sisters in your moment of hardship.”

Around one million people died of starvation in Ireland during the Great Famine. The Choctaw made their gift in 1847, making the $170 equivalent to a little over $5,000 today.

Native American Reservations Are Sometimes Described as Food Deserts so Many Irish Are Donating Money for Food & Water to Help

GettyA U.S. flag flies near a grave at the Lower Brule Indian Reservation on April 22, 2020, in Lower Brule, South Dakota. The threat posed by the novel coronavirus to particularly vulnerable populations has cast a shadow over the daily reality, already filled with difficulties, of Sioux tribe members.

According to the Rural Utah Project, the group that will be the beneficiary of the fundraiser, there are “13 grocery stores on Navajo to serve some 180,000 people and only three small grocery marts on Hopi to serve some 3,000 people.”

The money being raised is to be used for food and water for those who live on the reservations, especially for those in high-risk groups for COVID-19 complications.

According to the RUP, one-third of Navajo residents do not have running water where they live. Many are elderly or children and RUP reports that there are many people on the reservation with diabetes, asthma, and cancer. These funds will help bring food in and get it to those who cannot or should not leave home during the pandemic.

Partnership with Native Americans, a nonprofit group that serves Native American communities, says food insecurity is not unusual, even in normal times on Native American reservations. They estimate at least 60 reservations in the U.S. deal with food shortages and a lack of healthy food options.

“Households of Native American families are 400 percent more likely than other U.S. households to report not having enough to eat, largely as a result of living in remote, isolated locations where food supplies and jobs are scarce,” according to the organization.

While it was the Choctaw who donated to the Irish all those years ago, the Hopi and Navaho are in need, and the Irish are paying it forward. There are dozens of comments on the GoFundMe page from the Irish thanking and remembering the Native Americans for their generosity and their effort to help when the Irish were struggling to survive.

One donor to the GoFundMe cause wrote, “My ancestors may not have survived in Ireland without the generosity of Native Americans, and now I live here in their country on their land, the least I can do is try to help them!”

Another said, “I donated because of historical debt – The contribution of Hopi people to Irish people during the Irish Famine. Their generosity has never been forgotten.”

“From Ireland, with love and solidarity. Thank you for everything you did for our nation during one of our darkest moments. We will never forget, and I hope the donation will help,” wrote another.

The Irish & Native Americans Have Paid Respect to One Another Ever Since the Initial Act of Kindness in 1847

Ever since the donation from the Choctaw to the Irish, the two cultures have shared a bond of kindness toward not only one another but also to others in dire need. In 1992 a group of Irish people came to the U.S. to walk the 600 miles of the Trail of Tears to raise money for Somalia during a famine. The Irish raised $1,000 for every dollar the Choctaw donated to them during the Irish famine, ultimately donating $170,000 to Somalian relief, according to The Smithsonian. In 2018 the Irish set up a scholarship fund for Choctaw children as a thank you for their help during the Irish famine.

A sculpture called “Kindred Spiritswas erected by the people of Cork, Ireland, in 2017 to commemorate the Choctaw for their act of kindness in 1847. According to the Irish Times, the nine eagle feathers are 20-feet tall and arranged in a circle to represent a bowl of food being given to the hungry.

The Irish Times reported that Cork County Council East Cork municipal officer Joe McCarthy spoke about the reasons for commissioning the stainless steel sculpture in dedication to the Choctaw.

“The Choctaw people were still recovering from their own injustice, and they put their hands in their pockets and they helped strangers by contributing a sum of $170 to send food aid to Ireland. It’s rare to see such generosity and it had to be acknowledged,” McCarthy said.

“They bestowed a blessing not only on the starving Irish men, women, and children but also on humanity. The gift from the Choctaw people was a demonstration of love and this monument acknowledges that and hopefully will encourage the Irish people to act as the Choctaw people did.”

Now the Irish are stepping up, and Tulley is grateful. She wrote:

The heartache is real. We have lost so many of our sacred Navajo elders and youth to COVID-19. It is truly devastating. And a dark time in history for our Nation. In moments like these, we are so grateful for the love and support we have received from all around the world. Acts of kindness from indigenous ancestors passed being reciprocated nearly 200 years later through blood memory and interconnectedness. Thank you, IRELAND, for showing solidarity and being here for us.

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