In 1847, the worst year of Ireland’s Great Famine, people of the Choctaw Nation of the southeastern United States sent a gift of $170 to Ireland. The money, worth thousands in today’s dollars, was collected to help the starving people of Ireland. Over a million Irish people died from starvation and disease in the period from 1845 to 1849.
Honoring a small act of kindness
Cork-based sculptor, Alex Pentek, created the Kindred Spirits sculpture to help honor that simple act of kindness. The Making of Kindred Spirits shows the artist discussing its creation. The 20-foot tall sculpture, in Midleton, County Cork, was unveiled to the public in 2017. It stands in Ballie Park beside a popular walking trail.
But why would the Choctaw have sent such a gift when many of their people were struggling to survive? In 1831, the Choctaw were the first tribe to be forcibly removed from their native lands because of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. People of the Seminole, Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Muscogee (Creek) nations, and many non-natives and people of African descent who lived with the tribes, were also forced to move. Between 1830 to 1850, they forced tens of thousands of people from nine states to move to what is now Oklahoma. The perilous journey would become known as the Trail of Tears. Thousands died from exposure, disease, starvation, and harassment by local frontiersmen.
In 1847, the Choctaw were still recovering from the injustice they had experienced. They shared what little they had to help the starving Irish people.
The nine curved eagle feathers of this sculpture, arranged in a circular shape, symbolize an empty bowl. Each feather is different and they represent the Choctaw Nation’s strength, kindness, and humanity.
A bond between nations
The simplicity of this sculpture and the simple act of kindness it symbolizes, touched my heart. At the unveiling ceremony, a Cork County official said:
They bestowed a blessing not only on the starving Irish men, women and children, but also on humanity. The gift from the Choctaw people was a demonstration of love and this monument acknowledges that and hopefully will encourage the Irish people to act as the Choctaw did.Joe McCarthy, East Cork municipal officer
Members of the Choctaw Nation attended the opening ceremony. They felt humbled by the recognition they received 170 years later. At the ceremony, the Choctaw Nation’s chief said:
Your story is our story. We didn’t have any income. This was money pulled from our pockets. We had gone through the biggest tragedy that we could endure, and saw what was happening in Ireland and just felt compelled to help…
The bond between our nations has strengthened over the years. We are blessed to have the opportunity to share our cultures, and meet the generous people who have continued to honour a gift from the heart.Chief Gary Batton, Choctaw Nation
Update: The kindness continues…
A couple of days ago I read an article in The Irish Times about people in Ireland participating in a fundraiser to help Native Americans suffering from the coronavirus. Native people have been especially hard hit by this virus. A GoFundMe page was set up for the Navajo & Hopi Families Covid-19 Relief Fund on 15 March 2020. Their goal was to raise $1.5 million but as of today, 7 May 2020, they have raised $3,019,390.00.
Donations have come from all over the world, but many of the donors have Irish surnames. They remember the kindness the people of the Choctaw Nation showed them in the past.
Lens-Artists Photo Challenge (LAPC) – Simplicity