In 1847, during the height of the Irish potato famine, reports that millions of people were facing starvation reached members of the Choctaw tribe in Oklahoma. The Choctaws were no stranger to hardship, and had recently been removed from their tribal lands in Mississippi and forced to walk thousands of miles on what became known as the Trail of Tears. But even though they had scant material possessions and had lost nearly a quarter of their population during the arduous journey, they managed to scrape together $170 — over $5,000 in today’s money — and send it to the Irish relief effort.
Nearly 200 years later, Irish people are repaying the debt by donating to another Native American tribe that has been especially hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. The Navajo Nation has reported 2,373 coronavirus cases and 73 deaths to date, giving it a higher death rate than any state besides New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusetts. Meanwhile, many households have no running water, making basic sanitary precautions a challenge.
In response, a group of volunteers with ties to the Navajo Nation have set up a GoFundMe that serves a de facto food bank, delivering water, groceries and health supplies to elderly and immunocompromised people across a massive reservation that spans Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. To date, it’s raised over $1.6 million, with dozens of recent donations coming from Irish people who were moved to contribute in memory of the Choctaws’ generosity.
While GoFundMe does not give a breakdown over where donations are from, since Saturday the contributions appear to be primarily from Ireland.
“Native Americans were kind to the Irish during one of the worst parts of our history,” one person wrote. “This is the least I can do to somewhat repay the favour.”
One of the fundraiser’s organizers, Vanessa Tulley, wrote on Sunday that she had been moved to see the act of kindness being reciprocated nearly 200 years later, “through blood memory and interconnectedness.”
“Thank you, IRELAND, for showing solidarity and being here for us,” she wrote.