My Irish ancestors all came to America between 1847 and 1849 — during the time of An Gorta Mór, the Great Hunger, when the British Empire hoarded all the food they were producing on colonized Irish land and left the native people with nothing but diseased potatoes to survive. This plight resonated with the Choctaw Nation, who lived in and around modern-day Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana, and of course had had their own experiences with a systematic genocide at the hands of a land-greedy colonizing force just a decade earlier. So the Choctaw rallied their resources, and sent $170 over the Atlantic to the starving people in Ireland — the equivalent of either $5,000 or $20,000 dollars today, depending on your calculations.
To commemorate this generous act, a statue was erected in Midleton, County Cork in 2017.
But solidarity is even better than a statue. Which is why, as Native Americans have disproportionately suffered from the impacts of COVID-19, Irish people rallied to the cause, raising more than a million dollars for the Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund on GoFundMe in just a few days. The effort was largely spearheaded — or at least publicized — by Irish journalist Naomi O’Leary, who also spoke about the historical relationship and the legacy of colonialism on the Irish Passport podcast:
More than $1 million has now been added to the Navajo & Hopi relief fund since it began going viral in Ireland.
I explain the history of solidarity between Irish people and Native Americans and the legacy of colonialism in this new @PassportIrish episode: https://t.co/YQZliigGSi
— Naomi O’Leary (@NaomiOhReally) May 6, 2020
From O’Leary’s Irish Times article on the initiative:
You can still support the Navajo and Hopi GoFundMe campaign, which is up to $2.5 million as of this writing.
Coronavirus: Irish donate to hard-hit Native Americans to repay famine aid [Naomi O’Leary / The Irish Times]
Irish return an old favor, helping Native Americans battling the virus [Ed O’Loughlin and Mihir Zaveri / The New York Times]
Image: Kindred Spirits Choctaw Memorial in Midleton, Co. Cork, Éire, taken by Gavin Sheridan via Wikimedia Commons/CC 4.0
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