Sunday, August 29, 2010
Choctaw aid during An Gorta Mór 1845-1849.
Thank you to the Choctaw.
In 1847, midway through the Great Irish Famine (1845–1849), a group of American Indians of the Choctaw tribe collected $710 (although many articles say the original amount was $170 after a misprint in Angie Debo's "The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic") and sent it to help starving Irish men, women and children. "It had been just 16 years since the Choctaw people had experienced the Trail of Tears, and they had faced starvation.
It was an amazing gesture. By today's standards, it might be a million dollars." according to Judy Allen, editor of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma's newspaper, "Bishinik", based at the Oklahoma Choctaw tribal headquarters in Durant, Oklahoma.
The Choctaws are a Native American tribe originally from the southeast US (Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana). They were known as one of the "Five Civilized Tribes”, (Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, (a.k.a Muscogee) Seminole, and Choctaw).
The Five Civilized Tribes were called “civilized” by white settlers because they lived in European style settlements as farmers and planters, built stone and brick buildings and even owned slaves. They also dressed in a more European style than the plains Indians and had organized forms of government.
In 1831 President Andrew Jackson (whose parents emigrated from Antrim in Northern Ireland) seized the fertile lands off these tribes and forced them to make a harrowing 500-mile trek to what would be called Indian Territory and then later Oklahoma, known as the “Trail of Tears”.
Of about 20,000 Choctaws who started the journey, more than half perished from exposure, malnutrition, and disease. All this despite the fact that during the War of 1812 the Choctaws had been allies of then General Jackson in his campaign against the British in New Orleans.
The Choctaw’s sympathy towards the plight of the Irish came from their recognition of the similarities between the experiences of the Irish and Choctaw. They note that both were victims of conquest that led to loss of property, forced migration and exile, mass starvation, and cultural suppression.
This extraordinary gift from a people who were themselves impoverished has never been forgotten. In 1997, the 150th anniversary of that generous gesture, a group of Irish people walked with members of the Choktaw Nation along the 500 mile Trail of Tears but in reverse, back to the Choctaw homeland. In so doing they raised over $100,000 for Famine relief in Somalia.