The generosity of the impoverished Choctaw Native Americans in 1847 toward the Irish is being repaid by some Irish people today as the Navajo Nation battles COVID-19.
The Navajo people have been hard hit by the disease. As of Friday, there were 96 deaths and 2,876 confirmed coronavirus cases on Navajo Nation lands.
To help bring assistance to the Navajo people, as well as members of the Hopi tribe, volunteers have created a GoFundMe drive with a goal of $5 million.
As of Saturday, the campaign had raised more than $3.3 million.
Vanessa Tulley, who is part of the team organizing the effort, wrote that some of the donations came from Ireland, and explained the story.
“Several of our recent donations for our GoFundMe campaign have been inspired by the Great Hunger Famine in Ireland which started in 1845,” she wrote.
“During this difficult time, in 1847, the Choctaw Nation provided $170 of relief aid to the Irish to help them (today that is the equivalent of $5,000). Not long before the Great Hunger Famine in Ireland, 60,000 Native Americans, including the Choctaw people, had suffered through the experience of the Trail of Tears,” Tulley added.
During this 1830s, the Choctaw were forcibly removed from their native lands.
“The death of many people on the Trail of Tears sparked empathy for the Irish people in their time of need. Thus, the Choctaw extended $170 of relief aid,” Tulley wrote.
She noted that “173 years later to today, the favor is returned through generous donations from the Irish people to the Navajo Nation during our time of crisis.
“A message from Irish donor, Pat Hayes, sent from Ireland across the ocean: ‘From Ireland, 170 years later, the favour is returned! To our Native American brothers and sisters in your moment of hardship.'”
Tulley said the needs of the Navajo people are deep.
“The heartache is real. We have lost so many of our sacred Navajo elders and youth to COVID-19. It is truly devastating. And a dark time in history for our Nation. In moments like these, we are so grateful for the love and support we have received from all around the world,” she wrote.
“Acts of kindness from indigenous ancestors passed being reciprocated nearly 200 years later through blood memory and interconnectedness. Thank you, IRELAND, for showing solidarity and being here for us.”
“Once it was brought to our attention just how many people were catching and dying from it — that’s when it hit home here in Dilkon. All of a sudden, everybody is scared,” said Maggie Barton of the Dilkon community.
“We’re at the most southwestern portion of the Navajo Nation, and our needs are dire. We feel like we’re forgotten at times,” Barton said last week.
Dilkon’s two water trucks bring weekly water supplies to the elderly and those with transportation or health problems. Both trucks are currently awaiting repairs.
“They’ll have them repaired by next week, then we can start hauling water for the community again,” Barton said, noting that 30 families depend on the trucks for their water.
“If the trucks are not running, we ask community members and neighbors to help them. We’ll also take boxes of water out to them,” she said.
George McGraw of DigDeep, a nonprofit that tries to address water access issues, said the day-to-day reality of the Navajo is unique in America.
“Our clients wake up every morning and the first thing they think of is, ‘Where am I going to get enough water today to survive?’ It’s a daily reality that revolves around your access to water and a reality that most Americans cannot comprehend,” McGraw told CBS.
“We’re trying to sustain our community,” Barton said. “It’s important to be strong. It’s essential for living out here.”
McGraw said the impact of COVID-19 has brought new attention to the unmet needs of the Navajo.
“When it comes to COVID-19, all we have is prevention. We have no treatment, no vaccine. You can do two things — wash your hands frequently and you can isolate yourself from other people. Neither is possible if you don’t have running water at home,” he said.
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