Christy Evans remembers a great act of humanity
Ar an triú lá den Aibreáin 1847, bhí alt san ‘Arkansas Intelligencer’ faoi an Náisiún Choctaw, mhuintir dúchasach stáit Aontaithe. Bhailigh na Choctaw $170 do mhuintir na hÉireann.
Cén fáth a rinne siad é sin? Cé chaoi a rinne siad é? San am sin in Éirinn, bhí Gorta Mór uafásach ar fud na tíre le dhá bhliain. Bhí lucht labhartha na Gaeilge in iarthar na hÉireann ag fulaingt go crua. Bhí trua agus uafás ar daoine ar fud an domhain faoin Gorta.
Bhí tuarisc an alt san ‘Arkansas Intelligencer’ i 1847 go raibh ‘A meeting was held at the Choctaw Agency…the meeting contributed $170. All subscribed’. Is ionann an suim seo agus £50,000 a bheag nó a mhór in airgead an lae inniu. Is mór idir bailiúcháin an Náisiún Choctaw agus na cúpla scilling a thug ceannaraí polaitiúla, eaglasta agus lucht litríochta an tráth úd.
Ní raibh cogadh ar bith riamh idir an Naisiún Choctaw agus lonnaitheoirí na hEorpa. Bhí siad dícheallach agus éifeachtach mar feirmeoirí. Bhí ar na Choctaw a talamh a ghéill don rialtas Meiriceánach i 1812.
Ghéill an ‘Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek’ óna talamh go huile is go hiomlán i 1830. I 1831 bhí ar na Choctaw siúlóid mór 1,100 km a dhéanamh faoi gharda míleata. ‘Cosán na Deora’ an t-ainm a bhí air. Marú na mílte acu sna seascanna i Louisiana.
Ina dhiaidh sin bhí na Choctaw scriosta síobadh sneachta an geimhridh in Arkansas. Fuair 45% den Choctaw bás ar ‘Cosan na Deora’.
I 1847 bhí ocras ar na Choctaw bochta, ach is ainneoin sin, thug siad airgead do na hÉireannaigh. Anois i 2017, tá na mílte daoine éadóchasach ar fud an domhan a bhfuil ocras orthu. San am atá againn anois caithimid an daonchairdiúlach agus an flaithiúlacht a bhí ag na Choctaw.
On the third of April 1847, ‘The Arkansas Intelligencer’ newspaper reported that the Choctaw Nation, an indigenous people of the U.S.A., raised $170 for people in Ireland.
Why did the Choctaw do this? How did they do this?
By 1847, famine had raged in Ireland for two years. The Irish-speaking west of the country was hit particularly hard. The famine, and the seemingly indifferent official response to it, created pity and outrage all over the world.
In 1847, a meeting at the Choctaw Agency raised a sum equivalent to £50,000 in today’s money for ‘the relief of the starving poor in Ireland’. The collection by the Choctaw Nation was in stark contrast to the few shillings given by leading British political, religious and literary figures of the time. The Choctaw people had never been to war with European settlers. They were noted for being efficient and hard-working farmers.
In 1812, the Choctaw were forced to give up land to the U.S. government. In 1830, the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek forced the Choctaw off their land altogether. In 1831, the Choctaw were marched under military guard 1,100 km to the west. This forced migration became known as ‘The Trail of Tears’. Thousands of the Choctaw died in the swamps of Louisiana. Many others succumbed to blizzards in Arkansas. In total, about 45% of the Choctaw died on the Trail of Tears.
In 1847, the Choctaw were hungry and poor, but they still gave money to the Irish. In 2017, there are many hungry and desperate people in the world.
Today, we need to find the generosity and humanity shown to us once by the Choctaw. Here are just two of the Irish commemorations to the Famine relief received in the 19th century from the Choctaw Nation in America, whose people gave generously despite their own considerable troubles with various US authorities. The plaque is in the famine graveyard in Donegal Town, Donegal. It commemorates the gift of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma during the great famine of 1847.
On 23 March 1847 the Indians of the Choctaw nation took up a collection of $170 for Irish Famine relief – an incredible sum at the time. This was particularly poignant given their own history of enduring deprivation themselves.
In 1831 the Choctaw Indians were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands in Mississippi to what is now known as Oklahoma. The Choctaws were the first of several tribes to make this difficult trek or Trail of Tears as it became known. The years during and immediately following this journey, were very difficult for the tribal people. Many of the Choctaws did not survive the trip, and those that did faced hardships establishing new homes, schools, and churches.
Only 16 years after this journey, the Choctaws learned of the famine in Ireland. As the Choctaws themselves had faced hunger and death on the first Trail of Tears, they felt a great empathy with the Irish people. These Choctaw people, who had such meagre resources, gave all they could on behalf of others in greater need.
The sculpture – nine steel eagle feathers arranged in the shape of a bowl – is in Middleton, County Cork. Its sculptor, Alex Pentek, explained the symbolism thus: “By creating an empty bowl symbolic of the Great Irish Famine formed from the seemingly fragile and rounded shaped eagle feathers used in the Choctaw ceremonial dress, it is my aim to communicate the tenderness and warmth of the Choctaw Nation who provided food to the hungry when they themselves were still recovering from their own tragic recent past.”
The Irish World Heritage Centre in Manchester has a ceremonial head dress from the Choctaw Nation as a reminder of the kindness received in darker days.