This week is American Thanksgiving (or real Thanksgiving as I put it. Sorry Canada.) While we will be sharing food and giving thanks as best we can during these difficult times, we will also hear a lot about the first Thanksgiving. In 1621, Pilgrims in Plymouth invited Pokanoket Wampanoag to share in a feast that lasted three days. After those three days, settlers/future-Americans shared a fruitful relationship with the Indigenous People of the contine… no, we didn’t. These Colonists and, eventually, the American government stole land, and committed countless atrocities against these people. As much as I would love to list these atrocities, I don’t think there’s enough room in a post for it. So, rather than going through every horrible thing America has done in the name of Manifest Destiny, I’d rather look at a better relationship: the one between Ireland and various Native American tribes.
The Native Irish actually share a similar history to the Native Americans. Again, I am not going to go into a lengthy history lesson, however I will add some context. In the 17th Century, Native Irish were forced out of eastern Ireland to Connaught, west of the Shannon River, by Oliver Cromwell. Connaught has very rocky soil, and is not great for growing anything except potatoes (this will come back later).
What other group was moved to infertile land by a governing body?
The Potato Famine and The Trail of Tears
This is where the friendship begins. In 1847, Ireland was in the midst of the Potato Famine (due to being on infertile land only good for growing potatoes, mentioned above). Also called The Great Famine, Ireland’s population decreased by a quarter during this time due to starvation and immigration, and has still not reached pre-famine levels.
Sixteen years earlier, the Coctaw Tribe was forcibly removed from their lands in the southeastern United States to present day Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears. During this removal, the Choctaw saw 2,500-6,000 people die. These people had everything taken from them and were mourning the loss of their friends, family, and ancestral lands. How did they react? They gathered what they could and sent $170 ($5,000 in 2020) to Ireland to help the Irish people during the famine.
In Middleton, Ireland, there is a monument dedicated to the members of the Choctaw Nation for this act of generosity, named the “Kindred Spirits Choctaw Monument.”
The Choctaw did not do this with the intention of repayment. It was an act of generosity and kindness we rarely see. However, the Irish people did not forget who helped them while they were at their lowest. As COVID-19 rages on, certain groups are being hit harder than others. Two of these groups, the Navajo and Hopi Tribes, were left struggling to get clean water, food, and medical supplies. A GoFundMe was established that, to date, has raised roughly $6.3 million. In May, it had raised $1.8 million, with hundreds of thousands of dollars pouring in from Ireland. Many Irish people knew what the Choctaw had done during the famine, and wanted to repay them.
Gary Batton, chief of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, said the tribe was “gratified — and perhaps not at all surprised — to learn of the assistance our special friends, the Irish, are giving to the Navajo and Hopi Nations.” There are even more quotes expressing their appreciation to the people of Ireland, such as this one:
“The Choctaw ancestors planted that seed a long time ago, based off the same fundamental belief of helping someone else. It is a dark time for us. The support from Ireland, another country, is phenomenal.”Cassandra Begay, Communications Director for the Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund
This is the genesis of their friendship. Two groups, the Irish and Native Americans as a whole, wanting to help others in times of need. As amazing as this is, the story goes beyond monetary assistance.
2022 World Games
The World Games is an event every four years meant for sports not part of the Olympics. One of these sports included is lacrosse. In 2022, the game will be held in Birmingham, Alabama. Why do the 2022 World Games matter? The governing body of the World Games rendered a decision that the Iroquois Nationals could not compete, due to the fact they are not a sovereign nation. They were the third ranked team in the world, and this was met with a lot of backlash. 50,000 people signed a petition for them to be included. The World Games basically said, “Ok, we were wrong, but we can only have eight teams, and we have our eight.” The Irish team had some thoughts about this, with one of their players saying:
“None of us would be going to Birmingham, Ala., in the first place if it wasn’t for the Iroquois and giving us the gift of their medicine game… We support them, and if it means we’ll give up our spot, then so be it. But the Iroquois, they need to be there”Sonny Campbell, Midfielder/Forward, Ireland National Team
Ireland went above and beyond, dropping out of the World Games because they felt the Iroquois Nationals deserved a spot. It’s their game, and Ireland recognized that.
Ireland and Native Americans: A Friendship We Can All Learn From
In this season of giving thanks, Ireland and Native American tribes have done a phenomenal job of showing the world how thankful they are for the other. What started as a gift to someone at their lowest while you yourself were at the lowest has become a century long friendship. And I think that’s something we should all try to emulate in our day to day lives.
Have a happy Thanksgiving.
There’s the story of the world’s greatest friendship: Ireland and various Native American tribes. While this is not the usual thing I write, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@BellyUpKev), maybe I’ll revisit this in the future.