173 years on, Irish repay favour to coronavirus-hit Native Americans

Native American tribes badly hit by coronavirus have received an unlikely boost after donations poured in from Ireland to repay a favour from 173 years ago.

More than 70 deaths linked to COVID-19 have been reported in Navajo Nation across Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.

A GoFundMe campaign to provide food, water and other essential supplies for families in the territory has raised more than $1.5m (£1.2m) – and organisers have singled out Irish people for praise following their support.

The Navajo Nation has more confirmed cases per capita of COVID-19 than 48 US states! Navajo has depleted all of her limited resources to battle. Funding to fight is now grassroots fundraising – help if you can: Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund https://t.co/SdK1c5Wxgx

— Aaron Yazzie (@YazzieSays) May 2, 2020

In 1847 the Choctaw Nation, fresh off the Trail of Tears, heard of the Irish Famine and sent every cent they could.

Today, their covid-19 appeal is peppered with message after message of gratitude and fellowship from Irish donors.

They didn’t forget us. We won’t forget them. https://t.co/X99x6fY1Zp

— Maria Farrell (@mariafarrell) May 4, 2020

The campaign has received several donations inspired by the Great Hunger Famine in Ireland when, in 1847, the Native American tribe Choctaw Nation provided $170 (equivalent to $5,000 today) of relief aid to Irish people.

About 60,000 Native Americans had just suffered through the Trail of Tears – a series of compulsory relocations from their ancestral homelands which saw thousands die from hunger, disease, and exhaustion during forced marches – which made them empathetic to Irish people suffering the worst effects of the famine.

A message from one Irish donor, Pat Hayes, said: “From Ireland, 170 years later, the favour is returned! To our Native American brothers and sisters in your moment of hardship.”

One of the campaign’s organisers, Vanessa Tulley, said: “The heartache is real. We have lost so many of our sacred Navajo elders and youth to COVID-19.

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Relief workers load supplies for Navajo families quarantined in their homes
Image:Relief workers load supplies for Navajo families quarantined in their homes
A mural warns residents of the danger of coronavirus disease
Image:A mural warns Navajo residents of the danger of coronavirus disease

“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.

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“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.”

In Ireland, more than 1,300 people have died after contracting coronavirus, with nearly 22,000 confirmed cases of the virus.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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