Choctaw-Irish bond continues to strengthen over time
By Christian Toews
April 3, 2023
The Choctaw Nation and the country of Ireland have a deep connection that goes back hundreds of years – beginning with a donation that changed the course of Irish history to a now thriving partnership that exists today.
Forged through the bond of shared suffering, this seemingly unexpected connection of two people groups continues to change lives.
In 1847, The Choctaws pooled together $170, which was sent first to the Memphis Irish Relief Committee, then to the General Irish Relief Committee of the City of New York.
The $170 would be worth around $5,000 in today’s economy.
These funds were a donation in response to the Great Potato Famine that was devastating Ireland.
The generous hearts of the Choctaw people were moved to respond to this great suffering even though they had recently been displaced from their homeland and forced to walk the Trail of Tears.
This one act of generosity grew a thriving relationship over the years, providing opportunities and changing history for many people.
In 2020, 173 years after the original donation, both nations and the rest of the world faced the adversity of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Irish people once again honored the generosity they had been shown by giving back to Native American tribes hit the hardest by the pandemic.
Through a GoFundMe campaign, contributors raised nearly eight million dollars to help supply the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Reservation with clean water, food and health supplies.
According to the organizers, hundreds of thousands of those dollars come from Irish donors.
Many contributors cited the Choctaw-Irish connection as the motivation for their donations.
The Choctaw-Ireland Scholarship Programme is one of the most significant ways these nations continue their connection. This scholarship is one of the Chahta Foundation’s most prestigious education offerings.
The Republic of Ireland provides tuition and expenses for a Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma recipient to study at University College Cork.
“The scholarship program was initiated to provide a big ‘Yakoke’ (thank you) to the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, to recognize the great act of generosity and humanitarianism shown towards the Irish people during the Great Famine. These scholarships help foster greater ties between our two nations, and I look forward to continued growth and cooperation,” said Simon Harris, the Government of Ireland’s Minister for Higher Education.
This scholarship program has changed the lives of its recipients.
Jessica Militante was the first recipient of this scholarship in 2019. “Being the first recipient of this scholarship was an honor that I still can’t believe. With Choctaw and Irish ancestry, I grew up knowing about the connection between my two cultures and the amount of resilience and generosity that is rooted deep in our bones,” said Militante. “To be a part of furthering that connection—and have the opportunity to form new ones—was the experience of a lifetime.”
Militante wants to emphasize the importance of the scholarship for future recipients.
“The potential impact that this scholarship could have on a Choctaw scholar’s life has been proven again and again with each new recipient. As ambassadors of our tribe, we are given the opportunity to share and learn with a nation that has such close ties to our own,” said Militante.
According to Miliante, she grew professionally and personally in Ireland.
“While there, I was constantly learning about others—and myself—during class and outside of it as I explored every aspect Cork had to offer. This scholarship helped me immensely with my personal and professional development, and it is so important to me that other Choctaw scholars get to experience this immersion into a new and exciting educational environment.”
Ciara O’Donnell received the scholarship in 2020.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic afflicting the world, she moved to Ireland and studied remotely.
According to O’Donnell, many things were closed, but she could still experience the culture and enjoy her time in Ireland.
O’Donnell is the daughter of a single mother and said that her family would never have been able to afford for her to get her Master’s degree.
“We would not have been able to afford it. I never thought I would be able to get my Masters. It means so much. It’s hard to fully put it into words,” she said. “I’m just Incredibly thankful for the people of Ireland, to our tribe, just everyone who put in the work because I wouldn’t have been able to get my masters without it. While it was limited, I truly enjoyed it.”
In 2021 the Choctaw-Ireland Scholarship Programme for the first time accepted two recipients for the first time, Claire Green Young and Austin West.
The second scholarship that year was made possible by a matching donation through the Chahta Foundation to allow another student to study in Ireland.
In 2022, Skylee Glass and Aurianna Joines Palmer were announced as scholarship recipients. The second scholarship was again made possible by a matching donation through the Chahta Foundation to allow another student to study in Ireland.
With the acceptance of the 2023 recipients, the Choctaw Ireland Scholarship program will have allowed eight students access to higher education and a life-changing experience since it was founded.
For more information about the Choctaw-Ireland Scholarship and other educational opportunities The Chahta Foundation offers, visit chahtafoundation.com.
To make or inquire about tax-deductible gifts, potential donors may contact the foundation at [email protected] or 800-522-6170, ext. 2993.
The bond between The Choctaw Nation and Ireland began with a generous gift, and that gift has continued to give back to both nations for generations.
For more information on the Choctaw-Irish connection, visit the Choctaw and Irish History webpage.
Photo by Deidre K. Elrod
Lord Mayor Brendan Carr shows Chief Batton the plaque that hangs in the Mansion House in honor of the Choctaw Nation's donation during a 2017 trip.
Photo by Deidre K. Elrod
An Gorta Mor translates to The Great Famine, referring to the Irish Potato Famine between 1845 and 1852. The $170 gift would translate to more than $5000 today. For comparison, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American family with a median income spent just over $6000 on food in 2021.
Photo by Aurianna Palmer
Scenes from around Cork, Ireland from the 2022 Choctaw-Ireland Scholarship recipient, Aurianna Palmer.