Ireland’s $1m thank you for Native American act of kindness during potato famine

Irish donations to a Native American community battling COVID-19 with limited resources have now topped $1m (£768,000).

Flooded with responses from one place, organisers of the Navajo and Hopi Families Relief Fund feared their online appeal had been hacked.

But messages being posted with each pledge revealed the Irish were repaying a debt from the best part of two centuries ago.

In 1847, at the height of the potato famine, the struggling Choctaw community had sent $170 (£130) across the Atlantic to Ireland.

Cassandra Begay, deputy director of the Relief Fund, said: “We started looking into it and we started seeing messages, very sweet messages.

“That’s when I learned about the Choctaw Nation and their generous gift that they gave to Ireland during the potato famine and it touched our hearts.”

The online appeal, which has raised nearly $6m (£4.6m) in total, went viral after being retweeted by an Irish journalist.

Naomi O’Leary, Irish Times Europe correspondent, explained: “Getting help from so far away created a bond and a memory of that historical kindness that endures to this day.

“It’s remembered in Ireland. It started off a kind of chain of events through history in which Irish people and Native American people have had a sense of solidarity and kinship.”

With limited healthcare, food supplies and clean water, the Navaho and Hopi communities have been facing a humanitarian crisis.

At one point, they surpassed New York City for the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths per capita in the US.

Nearly 27,000 Irish people have donated online and dozens more by post, essentially a $1m thank you for that historical act of kindness.

Ms Begay added: “We’ll tell this story to our children and our children’s children. We’ll never forget the kindness of the Irish.”

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