SEATTLE, Washington — Since its European discovery in 1492, the indigenous peoples of the Americas have suffered greatly. Illness plagued the tribes, and relocation brought death by the thousands. A majority of their rights, land and freedoms were taken away. While policies in the U.S. have improved in the last decades, the poor state of indigenous tribes is still concerning. However, no matter the pain these tribes have endured, they have a long record of aiding those in need. A 173-year-old foreign aid sparked a friendship between the Irish and Native Americans. The Irish are now returning this aid in a dire time for Native American communities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ireland’s Infamous Potato Famine
A decade after the Choctaw tribe’s forced relocation to Oklahoma, Ireland was experiencing the infamous potato famine. The famine in Ireland destroyed 75% of its crops. This caused more than one million deaths and almost one million others to flee the country. The Choctaw tribe had lost thousands to the Trail of Tears and had next to nothing in their new Oklahoma reservation. However, when the tribe heard of the famine and pain in Ireland, they decided to help.
The Native Americans understood Ireland’s pain and wanted to lessen its burden. The tribe scraped together $170, the equivalent of $5,000 today, and gave it to the Christian missionaries in charge of the reservation to send to Ireland. The money ended up in an Irish town called Middleton. The funds collected and sent to Ireland helped the population immensely, and the Irish have been forever grateful for the aid.
Native American Reservations Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic
Today, the COVID-19 pandemic is severely impacting vulnerable communities in the U.S. and many other countries worldwide. These vulnerable communities that already have very little are falling into poverty. Many Native American reservations were cut off from essential suppliers or are living off severely low supplies. These reservations also lack access to food, electricity and running water. Tribes such as the Navajo and Hopi tribes have been hit the hardest.
As of September 29, there are 10,333 positive COVID-19 cases in Navajo with 555 deaths. According to the Hopi Health Care Center and the Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation, there are 435 cases, 314 being from Hopi tribal members. The Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund was established on GoFundMe on March 15 when the virus first hit the Navajo Nation and Hopi Reservation. As of September 30, the relief fund has raised approximately $5.9 million. Many of the donors were Irish citizens who were paying the Indigenous people back for their support decades ago. On May 7, it was calculated that there were 20,000 Irish donors who had raised $670,000.
Navajo Hopi Solidarity
The relief fund is organized by Ethel Branch, the founder of the grassroots Indigenous organization Navajo Hopi Solidarity. The fund helps raise money for supplies and resources for the Navajo and Hopi communities. Moreover, Indigenous-led volunteers deliver supplies and help families and the elderly with any day-to-day needs. The organization’s primary focus is to aid the elderly and single parents, but the communities as a whole are given assistance.
The deliverance of supplies to safe drop spots help protect the already exposed communities from any more exposure. The Navajo Hopi Solidarity also publishes updates on the reservations’ COVID-19 status, its grassroots efforts and educational videos on COVID-19 prevention measures. Additionally, the website lists phone numbers people in need of assistance can call. Contact information is also available for those who want to contribute to its humanitarian cause either through volunteering or donations.
A 173-Year-Old Friendship
Around 173 years ago, the Choctaw tribe helped a nation of people who were struggling even as they experienced a tragedy. Both peoples were suffering, but one gesture of $170 changed the relationship between these communities forever. The kindness of the Choctaws is taught in schools across Ireland. Moreover, County Cork, the county of Middleton, built a statue dedicated to the Choctaw tribe. Since the gesture of kindness and solidarity, the Irish and Choctaws have referred to each other as “kindred spirits,” like the name of Country Cork’s statue.
Looking Ahead to Lasting Friendships
International foreign aid, even assistance from local people through fundraising websites, creates connections and bonds that span oceans and lifetimes. There is a sense of security when one knows they are being cared for either by neighbors or people they’ve never met. Chief of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Gary Batton, said, “We hope the Irish, Navajo and Hopi peoples develop lasting friendships, as we have. Sharing our cultures makes the world grow smaller.” Sharing cultures and resources not only makes the world grow smaller but safer as well. Taking a page out of the Irish and Choctaw handbook on foreign aid could create a friendlier and safer world for all its inhabitants.