Irish send funds to Native American community, returning nearly 200-year-old favor

To pay it forward nearly 200 years later, the Irish are largely behind a massive donation to a Native American tribe that has been hit hard by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the US.

In 1847, in the midst of Irish potato famine, the Choctaw Nation — who originally lived across what is now Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida — raised an estimated $170 of relief aid, or more than $5,000 today, for the Irish.

At the time, the Choctaw people — who had allegedly learned of the potato famine from an Irish man who was overseeing the forced displacement of Native Americans from their native lands in the Southeastern US to areas to the west of the Mississippi River, what is now known as the Trail of Tears — sent the money to a philanthropist in New York, who then sent it to Dublin. The aid was used to pay for food, blankets and feed for livestock, The Irish Post reported.

Now some 173 years later, the Irish are returning the same kindness that was shown to them.

A GoFundMe created to help the Navajo nation has gone viral, with much of the more than $2.6 million raised to date being donated by Irish people, organizers said. The funds, which will be used for water, food, health supplies, fabric for masks and more, will also be used to help the Hopi Reservation.

“These communities also have high numbers of elderly, diabetic, asthmatic and cancer-afflicted (i.e., high risk) individuals. These communities could be devastated by coronavirus and COVID-19. We want to help these individuals, especially the elderly and high-risk individuals and families with children, to gain access to the food and water and other essential items they will need to weather this pandemic, such as food, PPE and diapers,” the fund reads, in part.

“From Ireland, 170 years later, the [favor] is returned! To our Native American brothers and sisters in your moment of hardship,” said one donor on the GoFundMe page.

The Navajo nation — its 27,000 square-mile reservation stretches into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah — has been hit hard by the COVID-19 epidemic. As of May 3, the tribe’s health officials reported 2,292 positive cases of COVID-19 and at least 73 deaths. In late April, McKinley County in New Mexico and Apache and Navajo counties in Arizona each had more than 430 cases reported from the Navajo reservation, The Associated Press reported.

The Navajo community has one of the highest infection rates per capita in the country.

What’s more, an estimated 40 percent of Navajos on the reservation live without running water, while some 10 percent live without electricity, according to a 2019 NPR report.

In a statement to the New York Times, Gary Batton, chief of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, said that the tribe was “gratified — and perhaps not at all surprised — to learn of the assistance our special friends, the Irish, are giving to the Navajo and Hopi Nations.”

“We have become kindred spirits with the Irish in the years since the Irish potato famine,” he added. “We hope the Irish, Navajo and Hopi peoples develop lasting friendships, as we have.”

In 2017, the so-called “Kindred Spirits” sculpture was erected in a park in Cork, Ireland, honoring the donation from the Choctaw Nation to the Irish during the potato famine, according to The Irish Post.

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