Cleveland Comhrá: A Kindness Remembered

Cleveland Comhrá: A Kindness Remembered
By Bob Carney

One of the memories I have of visiting my grandmother’s house when I was a child were the trinkets she would give to me, my brother and sister. They were “gifts” from a Native American reservation located in the Dakotas as a thank you for her financial support.

Even as a child it wasn’t difficult to see my grandmother lived on very modest means. She had no car or phone and I don’t recall a television, but to her it was important to help the Indian Nation.

The Indian Removal Act was signed into law May 28,1830 by President Andrew Jackson, himself a son of Scots-Irish immigrants. It authorized the president to negotiate with the five civilized tribes for their removal to the lands west of the Mississippi in order to facilitate white settlement of their anscestral lands.

President Jackson purchased these lands and promised vast amounts of land in the west where the five nations could live in peace. Pushing Native Americans west from their homes was not a new concept or even unpopular among settlers and government officials.

Washington and Jefferson had desires to attempt to assimilate Native Americans into a European style of life by having them adopt the language, religion and culture of the white man. who was settling into the southeast region of the United States. But progress had no patience.

The five tribes involved in the Removal Act, were the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek and the Seminoles. Collectively they were refered to as the civilized tribes.

In 1831, the Choctaw were the first to embark on the journey from their home in Mississippi to the Oklahoma Territory. They were ill-prepared for the journey, in what was one of the worst winters the south had ever seen. One fourth of those that started perished from starvation, exposure and disease.

The Trail of Tears
The remaining tribes that followed did not fare much better on what became to be called The Trail of Tears. Critics of the act regard it as a systematic genocide, perpetrated by the Federal Government, the U.S.Army and state militias to acquire the land east of the Mississippi River.

Sixteen years later, as the Choctaw were struggling to adapt to life in an area vastly different from their home in the east, they learned of the plight of a people, who they saw as suffering from the same type of oppression from a foreign invader.

The Choctaw were compelled to help, even though their own resources were few. They managed to raise $170.00 (about 4-$5,000 in today’s dollars) and sent it to those people in need. They had no ties to them, except for a very similar experience of the attempts to being erradicated from their homes, with no regard for their survival.

An Gorta Mór
Ireland was in a very dark time in 1847. An Gorta Mór, The Great Hunger, was having a devastating imact on Ireland’speople. Sometimes refered to as the potato famine, the main cause of the hardships was not a potato blight, but rather England’s long running domination of the Irish people.

British legislation made sure that all other agricultural products grown or raised in Ireland went to the British, and not to the people who had come to rely on the potato crop for sustenance. Ironically, the potato had been introduced in Ireland one hundred years prior by the English gentry.

Research has shown that some exports, such as butter and livestock, increased during the famine years. In 1847, peas, beans, fish, rabbit and honey continued to be exported.

Like the Native American, the Irish were banned from practicing their religion of choice, speaking their native tongue, owning property or engaging in their cultural traditions by a foreign invader.

It is believed one million people perished of starvation, exposure and disease and another million emigrated to escape poverty and starvation. One hundred and fifty years later, British Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a statement offering an apology for his government’s handling of the crisis.

Choctaw Nation Donates to Famine Relief
As winter of 2019 settled in, world health officials were becoming aware of a virus more deadly than the usual influenza strains we’ve become accustomed to. Here in the United States, one of the hardest hit by COVID19 have been the Native American Nations.

Reservation life is poor even in the best of times. The Navajo Nation has surpassed New York and New Jersey for the highest per capita coronavirus infection rate in the United States. There has been a disproportionate impact on minority communities and health care facilities for the Nations are overwhelmed.

On May 4, 2020, the Navajo-Hopi Nations appealed for financial assitance to help fight the pandemic. A Go Fund Me page was created as tribal leaders hoped to raise 1.5 million. $4.1 million came in, mostly from private Irish donors.
Cassandra Begay, a Navajo Nation member who helped organize the appeal for financial aid, was perplexed by the generosity of the Irish people. She was unaware of the actions of the Choctaw in 1847, but has since become an ambassador of sorts of how these acts of kindness between two peoples can endure.

Further Reading

  • The Great Shame by Thomas Keneally
  • Paddy’s Lament by Thomas Gallagher
  • The Trail of Tears by Charles Rivers Editors
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
  • The Deadliest Enemy by Michael Osterholm

Be Kind and Stay Safe!
*Bob Carney is a student of Irish history and language and teaches the Speak Irish Cleveland class held every Tuesday @PJ McIntyre’s. He is also active in the Irish Wolfhounds and Irish dog organizations in and around Cleveland. Wife Mary, hounds Morrighán and Rían and terrier Doolin keep the house jumping. He can be reached at carneyspeakirish@gmail.com

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