Ireland Is Repaying a Famine-Era Generosity by Donating Millions to Native Americans Fighting COVID-19
In 1847, members of the Choctaw Nation gathered for a meeting in Skullyville, Oklahoma, where they decided to join a rather unexpected humanitarian cause: Providing relief to those in Ireland affected by the Great Famine.
The Choctaw people were hardly in a position to part with any resources. In 1831, they were the first Native Americans that the U.S. government forced to abandon their lands east of the Mississippi River and embark on the westbound journey now known as the Trail of Tears. In fact, according to History.com, it was actually a Choctaw leader who coined the phrase "Trail of Tears," telling a newspaper reporter that the harrowing trek was “a trail of tears and death.”
They were still adjusting to life in their new territory in the mid-1840s when the news of Ireland’s plight struck a chord among the Nation's members—many of whom were all too familiar with poverty, starvation, and oppression. They collected $170 (the equivalent of about $5000 in today's dollars) and sent it overseas to be used for food, livestock feed, and other necessities.
The donation forged a bond between Ireland and the Choctaw Nation that not only remains 173 years later, but has also expanded to include other Native American communities. Over the past few weeks, a GoFundMe campaign set up to help Navajo and Hopi families affected by the coronavirus pandemic has raised more than $2.6 million, largely due to donations from Irish citizens.
Many donors have referenced the Choctaw Nation’s selfless act from 1847, offering strength and support with messages like “In remembrance of the generosity to Ireland in our time of need” and “From Ireland with love and gratitude.”
As TIME reports, the Navajo Nation is suffering from one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates per capita in the U.S., with more than 2300 confirmed cases and 73 deaths as of May 3. The GoFundMe donations are going toward deliveries of food, water, and medical supplies, especially to elderly members of both the Navajo and Hopi nations.
While Irish citizens have been exceptionally enthusiastic about the relief effort, plenty of other people have made charitable contributions, too. If you’d like to make a donation, you can do so here.