'Iyyikowa': Irish donate to tribes 173 years after Choctaw Nation assistance

Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma photoA 20-foot statue named Kindred Spirits, comprised of nine stainless steel eagle feathers that reach over 20 feet tall arranged in a circle to represent a bowl of food was dedicated in Midleton, County Cork, Ireland, to forever commemorate the donation made by the Choctaw Nation and the bond the two nations now hold.

Two Native American tribes in the southwestern United States hit hard by COVID-19 are receiving help from citizens of a country thousands of miles away inspired by the Choctaw Nation’s act of kindness more than 170 years ago.

The Navajo Nation, which has more than 356,000 members and tribal lands in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, reported more than 2,500 confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 80 deaths, according to tribal health officials. Officials with the Hopi Nation, which has tribal lands in Arizona, reports more than 50 cases.

More than $3.1 million dollars have been raised since March 15 for the Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund, organized on behalf of the Rural Utah Project Education Fund.

The money raised, according to organizers, goes toward providing food and water to Navajo and Hopi elders, those who are immunocompromised, and families with children.

A majority of the money raised is from residents of Ireland, who were inspired from a donation made by the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma in 1847 during the Great Potato Famine.

Sixteen years after members of the Choctaw Nation were forced to march from their homelands in Mississippi to now-Oklahoma in what is known as the Trail of Tears, a group of concerned tribal members learned of the 1847 potato famine in Ireland and raised $170 out of tribal members’ pockets to send to Ireland.

Fundraiser coordinator Vanessa Tulley thanked Ireland for sending donations as a way of returning the favor from 173 years ago.

“Thank you, Ireland, for showing solidarity and being here for us,” Tulley wrote.

Hundreds of comments from donors show support for the Native American communities.

“We will be forever known by the tracks we leave behind. Please accept this small donation as appreciation for the stance of your ancestors in standing with the Irish people in the face of adversity whilst facing your own genocide. Go raibh maith agaibh,” wrote Fintan Donnelly.

Eoin Greene wrote “We have always been touched by the generosity of the Choctaw people during a dark time in Irish history. So in the same spirit we donate to help the Navajo and Hopi.”

And another message came from Brendan Walsh said his donation was: “For past generosity of Native America to Ireland, because we’re all brothers and sisters on this planet, and because no-one should suffer oppression or its consequences.”

When learning of the efforts, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Chief Gary Batton said he was not surprised by the generosity of the Irish people.

“Adversity often brings out the best in people,” Batton said. “We are 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.”

The chief gave a Choctaw word for the selfless act.

“Our word for their selfless act is ‘iyyikowa’—it means serving those in need,” Batton said.

In 2017, a 20-foot statue named Kindred Spirits, comprised of nine stainless steel eagle feathers that reach over 20 feet tall arranged in a circle to represent a bowl of food was dedicated in Midleton, County Cork, Ireland, to forever commemorate the donation made by the Choctaw Nation and the bond the two nations now hold.

“We have become kindred spirits with the Irish in the years since the Irish Potato Famine,” Batton said. “We hope the Irish, Navajo and Hopi peoples develop lasting friendships, as we have. Sharing our cultures makes the world grow smaller.”

Donations for the relief fund can be made at www.gofundme.com/f/NHFC19Relief.

Contact Derrick James at djames@mcalesternews.com

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