NAVAJO NATION (KRQE) – It is a story more than 170 years in the making. “The spirit of giving and generosity, that transcends time,” Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton said. In 1831, the Choctaw Nation was forced to march along the Trail of Tears, relocating from their homeland in present-day Mississippi to present-day Oklahoma.
“After we lost a fourth of our population, one of the soldiers that had pushed them to go across the Trail of Tears, told the story of the people in Ireland and how they were starving due to the potato famine,” Batton said.
Batton said after hearing that story, their tribal members gave $170 to the Irish which is equivalent to more than $5,000 today. “In Ireland, they know this is part of their history and their culture, and they know this story,” he said.
There is even a sculpture in County Cork, Ireland, commemorating the tribe’s contribution. “It wasn’t so much the money we gave, but the spirit of hope we gave them,” Batton said.
Now, people in Ireland are repaying the favor to Native Americans. A GoFundMe page benefiting the Navajo Nation has raised more than $2.8 million. Irish people make up the list of contributors. Some commented things like, “Your ancestors helped my ancestors” and “Ireland remembers.”
“What goes around comes around,” Mark O’Hagan, who lives in Ireland, said. “It might not come around soon, and it may take a few generations, but it does come around.” O’Hagan lives in County Cork and is one of many who donated.
“I am passing that monument every day since it opened,” O’Hagan said. “I live about two miles away. People came to our help when we needed help at the worst possible time. We are in a much better position now than others and payback is something that is needed.”
While it was the Choctaw Nation who helped the Irish all those years ago, Batton said it is amazing to see the Irish stand with other Native American people like the Navajo Nation in their honor. “It just warms my heart to hear that generosity being paid forward again,” Batton said.
Batton said the Choctaw Nation has just 84 cases and one death. The Navajo Nation has more than 2,500 cases and almost 80 deaths. Batton said his tribe has reached out to the Navajo Nation and offered any help they may need during this time.
The GoFundMe page also benefits the Hopi Reservation in Arizona.