On St. Patrick’s Day, Remembering the Choctaws Gift to the Irish

An 1847 image from the Illustrated London News shows a starving boy and girl in Cork in search of a potato.
An 1847 image from the Illustrated London News shows a starving boy and girl in Cork in search of a potato. (Wikipedia)

On St. Patrick’s Day, it seems a fitting time to remember an incredible gesture made by the oppressed Choctaw Indians during the Great Irish Potato Famine.

The year was 1847, in the middle of the Irish Famine. The Choctaw people collected money to send overseas to feed the starving men, women and children of Ireland. The amount has been reported as both $710 and $170, but the amount is irrelevant. Consider that the Choctaw made this donation only 16 years after they (and other Indian nations) were brutally  relocated from their ancestral homes in the southeastern United States and moved into present day Oklahoma.

The Choctaws understood suffering and starvation. As the website FiveCivilizedTribes.org describes:

The Choctaws were the first of the five great southern tribes of the United States to be moved to Oklahoma by the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1830. Over 20,000 Choctaws moved on this long journey, with many of the Choctaw people not surviving this removal on what has come to be called “THE TRAIL OF TEARS”.

Map of the Trail of Tears
Map of the Trail of Tears. (Wikipedia)

On the Trail of Tears, Native peoples “suffered from exposure, disease, and starvation,” according to Wikipedia. More than 10,000 people from various tribes died en route.

Nearly 150 years after the Choctaw’s gift to Ireland, eight Irish citizens retraced the Trail of Tears. The following 1992 article from the American-Statesman Capitol headlined “Irish Repay Choctaw Famine Gift: March Traces Trail of Tears in Trek for Somalian Relief” provides more details. A few years later, Mary Robinson, the President of Ireland, visited the Choctaw Nation to thank the people for their gift.

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Speaking of hunger, there is still time to donate to the Generous Spirit Food Drive to support the Department of Indian Work Food Shelf at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul. Donations made during the month of March get matched. Thank you for your help!

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