‘Beyond amazing’: Navajo Nation’s AG praises Irish generosity to coronavirus fund

Many left comments saying they donated in remembrance of aid to Ireland during Famine

Monument Valley is home to the Navajo Nation, who have been badly affected by coronavirus. Photograph: Eric Baradat/AFP

Monument Valley is home to the Navajo Nation, who have been badly affected by coronavirus. Photograph: Eric Baradat/AFP

 

Irish people’s generosity in helping Native Americans fight one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the United States has been described as “beyond amazing” by the Navajo Nation’s attorney general Doreen McPaul.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars poured in to the Navajo & Hopi Families Covid-19 Relief Fund since it began to go viral in Ireland, helping it burst through its target of $1.5 million (€1.3 million) last week.

The list of donors to the GoFundMe page is dominated by Irish surnames, and many donors left comments to say they were giving in remembrance of Native American aid to Ireland during the Great Hunger.

In 1847, members of the Choctaw tribe raised $170 in famine relief for Ireland, a huge sum for a time when they had very little, as it came after they had been driven from their land in the devastating so-called Trail of Tears.

Many comments on the GoFundMe page referenced the Choctaw donation. Some read “Ní neart go cur le chéile” and others simply “Ireland remembers”. “173 years ago, the people of the Choctaw nation showed Ireland unimaginable generosity,” wrote donor Michael Foy. “I am donating today in memory of our shared past, and to help overcome this crisis together – just as we did nearly two centuries ago.”

The Nation’s attorney general Doreen McPaul who has Irish grandfathers, told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland on Tuesday that it was “just really heart-warming” when she learned of the many donations from Irish people. “It made me want to follow up more,” she said.

Both of her paternal grandfathers were Irish and her father has dual citizenship, she said. Ms McPaul has visited Ireland twice as her sister lived in Ireland while she studied international human rights.

Her sister subsequently married an Irish man, from Newmarket-on-Fergus in Co Clare and they visit Ireland every summer along with her parents.

The fundraiser was organised by a group of Native American women who are community organisers, and have set up a network of distribution points for food, water, and soap. The supplies are essential given that 38 per cent of people in the reservation live in poverty, and providing them helps the most vulnerable people to stay protected in their homes.

The funds raised will be used to help members of the Navajo Nation which is spread across three states - Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. With a population of 170,000, to date 132 people have died from the pandemic. Communities have found coping with the virus “problematic” because of the infrastructure with many living in remote areas. Just 13 grocery stores serve an area larger than the Republic, and the Navajo estimate they have only 170 hospital beds. A third of homes do not have running water, and the legacy of US uranium mining in the territory to build its nuclear arsenal has left groundwater contaminated, making basic hygiene difficult.

It is also difficult to separate an ill person from the remainder of the family as they live in multi-generational households and it was not part of the Navajo culture not to care for someone. There are also challenges with a lack of water and access to disinfectant.

Ms McPaul said she first became aware of the generosity of the Irish people when the treasurer of the fund shared with her some of the comments of Irish donors. She had already been aware of the Choctaw story and of the sculpture in Ireland. “It is beyond amazing, the outpouring of support from Ireland is amazing,” she said.

The Choctaw aid, which is remembered by the Kindred Spirits sculpture by Alex Pentek in Midleton, Co Cork, is not the only example of solidarity between Irish people and Native Americans in history.

In a mission to drum up support for Irish independence in the US in 1919, future president Éamon de Valera was made an honorary chief by the Ojibwe-Chippewa tribe, who greeted him as “a representative of one oppressed nation to another”, according to a contemporary news report.