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March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day from the National Museum of the American Indian: A Gift from the Choctaw Nation

Ireland & Choctaw
George Catlin (1796–1872). Ball-play of the Choctaw: Ball-up, 1846–50. Oil on canvas; 65.4 x 81.4 cm. Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr. Smithsonian American Art Museum 1985.66.428A. In 1834 Catlin watched Choctaws playing stickball during his travels in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma).

On St. Patrick’s Day, the museum would like to call attention to a remarkable gift from the people of the Choctaw Nation to the people of Ireland during the Irish famine. We asked Judy Allen, executive director of public relations for the Choctaw Nation, to tell the history of what she describes as “an act that shaped tribal culture."

The Choctaw people have a history of helping others. Only sixteen years after their long, sad march along the Trail of Tears, the Choctaws learned of people starving to death in Ireland. With great empathy, in 1847 Choctaw individuals made donations totaling $710 to assist the Irish people during the famine. It was an amazing gesture. Though they had meager resources, they gave on behalf of others in greater need.

In 1995, Irish President Mary Robinson, later UN Commissioner for Human Rights, visited the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma to thank the Choctaws for their generosity toward the Irish, a people with whom she noted their only link was “a common humanity, a common sense of another people suffering as the Choctaw Nation had suffered when being removed from their tribal land."

President Robinson also acknowledged the many Choctaws who have visited Ireland to take part in commemorating the Famine Walk. “Earlier in the month I met one of the members of the tribe, the artist Gary Whitedeer,” she said. “He explained to me that taking part in that walk and remembering the past between the Choctaw Nation and Irish people and relinking our peoples is completing the circle. I have used that expression recently at a major conference on world hunger in New York. I spoke of the generosity of the Choctaw people and this idea of completing the circle.”

This charitable attitude resonates still today when crisis situations occur across the world. In 2001, tribal people made a huge contribution to the Firefighters Fund after the Twin Towers attack in New York City and have since made major contributions to Save the Children and the Red Cross in 2004 for tsunami relief, in 2005 for Hurricane Katrina relief, and more recently, for victims of the Haiti earthquake. Good works are not exclusive to humanitarian organizations and funds. The Choctaw Nation received the United States National Freedom Award in 2008 for the efforts made in support of members of the National Guard and Reserve and their families. There are countless stories of Choctaw individuals who have looked past their own needs to help their neighbors.
 

Stickball20100904_0652Traditional stickball games are still played today. Photo by Judy Allen, Executive Director of Choctaw Nation Public Relations. Courtesy of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

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Comments

What a wonderful story. As an Irish person, this touches my heart.....Sending many Blessings back to the Choctaw people and gratitude from my heart to theirs, for the gift of humanity they gave to my ancestors.
Lia

Even though I've read of this before, it still brings tears to my eyes to think of the generosity extended to the starving Irish, including my own Irish ancestors, by the Choctaws, despite their own trials at the time. The famine was what moved my relatives to leave Ireland. England was doing nothing at all to help the Irish, despite being quite prosperous. Yet, the Choctaws helped—this is a lesson in how giving ordinary people can be even when they themselves are oppressed and not wealthy. That value of helping one's neighbor is something to be proud of, and grateful for!

What a lovely story, obviously the Choctaw people have a heart for serving others, a very touching relationship they have with the Irish.

The first time i've ever been to an irish event. I'm from Kenya and won't forget the people I met when I was here. The Choctaw people are just a blessing to all of us. Thanks everyone.

This is the coolest thing I've read all day! Wow Native Americans were real people that actually cared about the planet.

I only found about this today from my friends wife who is Choctaw. The world would be a better place if others could follow this wonderful piece of humanity.

The Bastille Day is a day to be remembered by us all.

Why is there no wonderful film about this moment in American and Irish history? And why can't we get the donation amount recorded corresctly? When I first began to investigate this Gift I read $!,710. as the amount donated. I found this amount noted in 3 different documents. Then, when the internet arrived I began to notice quite a variety of Gift amounts.

Then I noticed that $710. was the amount that the internet settled on, until then Pres. Clinton mispoke and called it $170. donation so now you will see either $710. or $170.

I sure wish that we could get this straightened out.

I am writing about this myself right now and I would like to report this correctly. For now I think I'm sticking with the historical documents.

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