In 1847 when the Choctaw nation heard of the starving Irish they responded by contributing $170 (about $4,400 today) to send food aid to Ireland.
This show of solidarity came despite the great hardships being faced by the Choctaw people themselves. They were also living in starvation and poverty having been driven by white settlers from the southern states to the more barren Oklahoma in what became known as “The Trail of Tears”. Thousands died on the trek.
Native American Choctaw and Irish cultures will come together on Sunday, June 18 for the official dedication of the Kindred Spirits sculpture in Midleton, Co Cork, which commemorates a donation made by the Choctaw.
The chief of the Choctaw Nation, Chief Gary Batton, and a delegation of 15 Choctaw representatives will attend the public ceremony at 2pm at Bailick Park The event will include traditional Choctaw and Irish music and dancing, as well as several activities around the sculpture and the story.
Kindred Spirits, by Cork-based sculptor Alex Pentek, was commissioned in 2013 by the former Midleton Town Council to commemorate the Choctaw generosity.
The sculpture comprising of nine, 20ft-high eagle feathers, arranged in a circular shape, represents a bowl filled with food, presented to those suffering hunger.
Joe McCarthy, the county council’s East Cork municipal district officer, said the Choctaw people were still recovering from their own injustice: “But they put their hands in their pockets and they helped strangers. It’s rare to see such generosity. It had to be acknowledged. 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 I hope that this monument and the official dedication acknowledges that, and that it will encourage the Irish people to act as the Choctaw people did.”
Ahead of his upcoming visit, Chief Gary Batton spoke about the connection between his people and the Irish: “Your story is our story. We didn’t have any income.
“This was money pulled from our pockets. We had gone through the biggest tragedy that we could endure, and saw what was happening in Ireland and just felt compelled to help.
“The bond between our nations has strengthened over the years. We are blessed to have the opportunity to share our cultures, and meet the generous people who have continued to honour a gift from the heart,” Chief Batton said.
In 1990, Choctaw leaders travelled to Co Mayo to take part in a re-enactment of an 1848 eviction.
Their nation also declared former President Mary Robinson an honorary Choctaw chief.