Choctaw Indians and the Irish Potato Famine Aid

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The Choctaws are a native American tribe originally from the southeast US (Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana). They were known as one of the “Five Civilized Tribes”, (Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, and Choctaw)

In 1831 President Andrew Jackson (whose parents emigrated from Antrim in northern Ireland) seized the fertile lands and these tribes forced the to a harrowing 500-mile trek to what would be called Indian Territory and then later Oklahoma, known as the “Trail of Tears”. Of about 20,000 Choctaws who started the journey, more than half perished from exposure, malnutrition, and disease. All this despite the fact that during the War of 1812 the Choctaws had been allies of then General Jackson in his campaign against the British in New Orleans.

Only 16 years later in 1847, the Indians of the Choctaw nation moved by news of starvation in Ireland, a group of Choctaws gathered in Scullyville, Oklahoma to raise a relief fund. They managed to collect $170 and forwarded it to a U.S. famine relief organization.

Obviously their sympathy came from their recognition of the similarities between the experiences of the Irish and Choctaw. They note that both were victims of conquest that led to loss of property, forced migration and exile, mass starvation, and cultural suppression.

In the fall of 1845, the potato blight and subsequent famine had reached its height in 1847. British colonial policies before and during the crisis exacerbated the effects of the potato blight, leading to mass death by starvation and disease. For example, in March of 1847, at the time of the Choctaw donation, 734,000 starving Irish people were forced to labor in public works projects in order to receive food. Survivors referred to the year as “Black ’47.”

By the time the famine had ended in the early 1850s, millions in cash and goods had been sent to Ireland by the Irish in US, individuals and any kind of organization. But Choctaw’s donation must be recorded as the most generous contribution to the effort to relieve Ireland’s suffering.

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