Choctaw and Irish Kindred Spirits in Perseverance

Chief Gary Batton

From one outstretched hand to another, the Choctaw Nation and the Irish formed a connection 170 years ago.

In June, I had the privilege to travel to Ireland to attend the dedication of “Kindred Spirits,” a monument commemorating the gift of $170 from Choctaw tribal members living in the Skullyville area to the people of Ireland who were suffering and dying during the Great Hunger in their land.

Ireland lost more than 2 million people–approximately 1 million died of starvation and disease and over a million migrated to other countries.

The story of the donation has been passed down through generations in Ireland. I was unprepared however, for the extent of the welcome we would receive when we arrived in Ireland.

Their generous spirit reached out and embraced us wherever we went. It was a very humbling experience and we were very proud to walk in the spirit of our ancestors.

Ireland’s President Michael Higgins recognized the gift came from a people who shared similar experiences. He called it a gift of love and compassion and solidarity.

“Kindred Spirits” is such an appropriate name for the relationship between our countries. The Choctaw people came across the Trail of Tears where we lost one-fourth of our people. When our ancestors heard of the famine and the hardship of the Irish people, they knew it was time to help.

It is a spirit of hope and prosperity, one that has grown stronger through things we have overcome and endured. The Choctaw people and the Irish people are still here today.

The monument created by Alex Pentek pulses as if it contains life, the life and spirit of the many people lost through both tragedies and those who survived.

He chose eagle feathers because the eagle is symbolic of peace and revered by Choctaw people. The steel feathers stand 24 feet tall and when you look closely you can recognize the talent and precision used to create each one.

On such close inspection, it is obviously metal. When you stand back to see the entire creation, it isn’t steel you see. It’s life. The feathers, cupped like a bowl, are reaching for the heavens and they shimmer with every hint of light.

Alex said that even though the histories are tragic and unimaginably horrific, there is a feeling of rising above it by standing together. As much as ever, standing together against adversity from those who are persecuting is a message we can still move forward today.