Repaying historical favor, Irish people worldwide helping with Navajo Nation's fight against COVID-19

The Navajo Nation in Northern Arizona has been hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic, and donations to help the tribe are pouring in, including from what may seem like an unlikely place: Ireland and Irish people all around the world.

In Phoenix, the Irish Cultural Center is holding a donation drive over the next two weekends for the Native American nation. It’s not only a nice thing to do, but it’s also repaying a favor from more than 170 years ago.

"The Irish people, we have had our fair share of ups and downs and struggles, and we never forget the kindness that’s paid to us," said Ciara Archer with the Phoenix Irish Cultural In Learning Foundation.

In 1847, the Choctaw nation sent $170 to starving Irish families, during the potato famine that killed more than a million people.

$170 in 1847 is the equivalent to over $5,000 today. At the time, the tribe itself was poor, just after the Trail of Tears that left thousands of Native Americans dead along the way.

The 170-year-old gift is still considered sacred to this day, taught to Irish schoolchildren. There is even a monument in the shape of feathers that was erected in Ireland to honor the generosity of Native Americans.

According to the Ireland-based newspaper Irish Examiner, the monument, called "Kindred Spirits", can be visited at a park in County Cork.

"It’s great to know that we help them out at one point, now they’re helping back with that favor, so it’s awesome to know that type of history, and I’m sure will be reading about it, writing about it and teaching our young Navajo, younger generation about this connection," said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

As the battle against COVID-19 continues, hundreds of Irish people are returning the favor, donating to the Navajo Nation in their time of need. It's part of a GoFundMe pledge that’s nearing $4 million. A thank-you from kindred spirits that crosses an ocean, as well as generations.

"With some things, we are tied in our history books, and we talk about it when we talk about the famine, to remind us that we didn’t go through it alone. We were all in together, which, I think, is appropriate for this COVID-19 pandemic. We’re all in this together," said Archer.

Irish Cultural Center

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