Paula Redmond recalls the extraordinary generosity of the Choctaw nation towards the Irish people during the Great Famine 0f 1847
The Potato Famine, which had started in 1845, had devastated Ireland by 1847. The Irish in the US tried to assist by sending money and boat tickets for America to relations. They also organised relief committees and raised funds.
One of the more unusual donations that came from the US was a contribution by the Native American Choctaw Indian tribe. They assembled together in Scullyville, Oaklahoma, and gathered $710 (approximately $5,000 in today’s money) that they forwarded to the US Famine Relief organisation.
They felt an affinity with the people of Ireland, who, like themselves, had suffered under a colonial power.
At the start of the 1830s almost 125,000 Native American Indians lived on millions of acres of land in the south of the United States in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee. Within a decade very few remained. They were removed by the American Government on behalf of white European settlers who wanted the land to grow cotton.
In the early days of the newly formed American Republic some leaders, such as President George Washington, wanted to ‘civilise’ the Native Americans by making them speak English, convert to Christianity and essentially give up their traditions and customs.
Despite the fact that some tribes did not fiercely oppose the white settlers, the decision was made to remove them entirely from their native lands.
President Andrew Jackson, as an army general, had already initiated many brutal battles against native Americans, which had resulted in the transfer of thousands of acres of land from these tribes to settlers. In 1830 he signed the Indian Removal Act which legalised the removal of native tribes from their lands in the south to the ‘Indian Colonisation Zone’ in the West.