Chief Gary Batton told of the similarities between the two people as a special feather sculpture was unveiled in Bailick Park, Midleton, Co Cork. The ‘Kindred Spirits’ sculpture commemorates a donation made by the Choctaw people to Ireland during the great famine.
Chief Gary Batton said he became emotional when he saw the sculpture.
“The people in Ireland know how to get a gathering together. It is hard for me to express what a great honour this is this tribute to our Choctaw ancestors. I can’t tell you the feelings it gives to me to see it in person.
“We know the story of the tragedy of all our people that we endured and over came. But we knew once we heard of the story of hardship of the Irish people we knew it was our time to step up and help out. We have endured — the Choctaw people and the people of Ireland.”
Meanwhile, the Mayor of Co Cork, Cllr Seamus McGrath said the Irish people were very grateful for the “kindness of strangers” during the great famine.
“To think they heard about the hardship that the Irish people were enduring during the great famine and they made whatever effort they could to help out. It is an extraordinary story. It is only right that we in Cork would mark that and that there would be a tribute to that act of generosity.”
Close to 20 representatives from the Choctaw Nation from Oklahoma attended the public ceremony. It included traditional Choctaw and Irish music and dancing, as well as 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 time in 1847, when the kind people of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma heard of the suffering of the starving Irish. They responded, with greatness of spirit and generosity, by contributing a sum of $170 dollars (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 who were also living in conditions of starvation and poverty, and who had just a few years previous endured the Trail of Tears.
The sculpture comprising of nine, majestic 20 foot eagle feathers reaching towards the sky in the East Cork town, arranged in a circular shape, represents a bowl filled with food, presented to those suffering hunger, metaphorically speaking.
This is not the first time the Choctaw Nation has been honoured in Ireland. In 1990, Choctaw leaders travelled to Mayo to take part in a re-enactment of an 1848 protest. The gesture was returned in 1992, when Irish leaders took part in a trek. Former President Mary Robinson also has been named an honorary Choctaw chief.