Taoiseach will travel to Oklahoma to pay tribute to Choctaw nation

The Taoiseach is to travel to Oklahoma to thank the Choctaw nation for providing relief to Ireland during the Great Famine, more than 170 years after members of the nation of Native Americans donated to those starving 7,000km away here.

Leo Varadkar will travel to Durant, Oklahoma, next Monday to thank the Choctaw chief Gary Batton for the contribution made by his ancestors, and will make a presentation to the chief and the Choctaw nation.

In March 1847, the Choctaw people of Oklahoma collected some $710, the equivalent of several thousand dollars today, for famine relief here. It came only 16 years after the infamous Trail of Tears, when tribes were relocated from their lands, and when the Choctaw were living in relative poverty.

Last June, Chief Batton marked the ongoing ties between Ireland and the Choctaw nation with a visit to Midleton, Co Cork, to unveil a statue entitled ‘Kindred Spirits’, which commemorates the donation.

Speaking ahead of the visit, Mr Varadkar said:

I am captivated by the story of the Choctaws. They were expelled from their ancestral lands in Mississippi, and lost many members of their tribe on the Trail of Tears. Many starved to death or died from exhaustion during their journey on foot to the reservation in Oklahoma.

“A few years later, the Choctaw heard of the Irish famine, and of the suffering of our people. Even though some of the people who took their lands were Irish, the Choctaw understood our pain and felt kinship with us, because they had experienced it themselves.

“This is one of the oldest connections we have with America, and it’s a kinship I wish to renew through my visit.”

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