From newspaper accounts, letters, and refugees themselves the world learned of the unfolding horror in Ireland. By the time the famine ended in the early 1850s, millions in cash and goods had been sent to Ireland by individuals, charitable organizations, churches, synagogues, and businesses. But the most remarkable and most generous contribution would come from the Choctaw Nation.
It was in Black ’47 when a group of Choctaws, moved by the news of Irish starvation, took up a collection to help. Despite their meager resources they raised $170. What made their donation so extraordinary was their recent history. For it was only sixteen years earlier that the American government forced these indigenous people off their land and forced them to undertake the harrowing 500-mile journey we know as the Trail of Tears. Of the 21,000 Choctaw who started the journey, more than half perished from exposure and starvation. Loss of property, forced migration and exile, mass starvation, and cultural suppression – the subjugations of the Choctaw and Irish were horrifically similar.
A plaque on Dublin’s Mansion House which honors the Choctaw Nation’s contribution reads; Their humanity calls us to remember the millions of human beings throughout our world today who die of hunger and hunger-related illness in a world of plenty.
Among many other commemorations of the Choctaw gift is this installation by Irish sculptor Alex Pentek entitled Kindred Spirits. Alex writes that “by creating an empty bowl symbolic of the Great Irish Famine formed from the seemingly fragile and rounded shaped eagle feathers used in Choctaw ceremonial dress, it is my aim to communicate the tenderness and warmth of the Choctaw Nation who provided food to the hungry when they themselves were still recovering from their own tragic recent past. I have also chosen feathers to reflect the local bird life along the nearby water’s edge with a fusion of ideas that aims to visually communicate this act of humanity and mercy, and also the notion that the Choctaw and Irish Nations are forever more kindred spirits.
May we embrace the humanity of the Choctaw Nation. May we embrace all people of the world as kindred spirits.
Judith – firstname.lastname@example.org