I’m writing this on St. Patrick’s Day as I recall a visit I made last year to the Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum in Hamden, CT. In one corner there is a work of art made out of a 3000-year-old peat bog oak by Irish artist Kieran Tuohy. It shows a number of hands upraised; in their midst there are forms of humans. It was created in 2005 and entitled “Thank You to the Choctaw”.
The “thank you” is for a gift the Choctaw nation made in 1847 to the Irish Famine Relief during the height of the Potato Famine. A million Irish starved to death in the 1840’s because of a potato blight and the fanatical devotion of their British overlords to the cult of “free trade”. There were enough corn, barley and dairy goods in Ireland to feed everyone, but most of it belonged to the landlords, and they exported it.
On March 23, 1847 the Choctaw contributed $170 to the Irish charity, an awesome sum of money in those days. In 2014 it would be worth tens of thousands of dollars. What is amazing is that the generosity came from a people who a decade earlier had been driven from their homes at a terrible cost in lives. In 1831, during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, they were forced out of Mississippi during the winter into what is now Oklahoma. They were the first to travel the Trail of Tears. An estimated 10,000 died in this act of ethnic cleansing. Yet just 16 years later they were helping out people even more desperate than themselves.
An Irish website notes, “Thanks to the work of Irish activists such as Don Mullan and Choctaw leader Gary White Deer the Choctaw gift has been recognized in Ireland.” In 1992 a plaque remembering the Choctaw gift was unveiled at the Lord Mayor's Mansion in Dublin, Ireland. It reads, "Their humanity calls us to remember the millions of human beings throughout the world today who die of hunger and hunger-related illness in a world of plenty". It is a noble sentiment. The World Food Program states that over three million children die a year from hunger.
On the Choctaw Nation website there’s a photo of an artwork by Swedish-Cherokee artist America Meredith memorializing the 1847 gift. It shows Choctaw giving blankets and food to the open-handed Irish.