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Repaying a 173-year-old favor: The Irish help raise money for Native Americans hit by the coronavirus

A third of Navajo Nation residents do not have running water.
Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A coronavirus relief fund for Native American communities has seen an influx of Irish donors, looking to repay the favor of aid which was given by a tribe to Ireland during its potato famine of the 1840s. 

The "Navajo & Hopi families Covid-19 relief fund" was set up on GoFundMe in March for Native American communities in Arizona that have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. To date it has raised over $2.5 million and is aiming to raise a total of $3 million. 

The Native American territory of the Navajo Nation, which contains the Hopi Reservation and stretches across Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, has been among the worst hit areas by the coronavirus in the U.S.

The Navajo Nation has 2,474 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 73 deaths, according to the Navajo Times

Vanessa Tulley, one of the organizers of the campaign, singled out generosity from Ireland on its GoFundMe page. 

"Acts of kindness from indigenous ancestors passed being reciprocated nearly 200 years later through blood memory and interconnectedness," she wrote. "Thank you Ireland for showing solidarity and being here for us." 

Some Irish donors tweeted that they were inspired by the Choctaw Nation tribe who provided relief of $170 — thought to be the equivalent of around $5,300 today— to Ireland during the Great Potato Famine in 1847.

Irish writer Hazel Hayes said on Twitter she was "honoured and humbled to help repay that favour by donating to the Navajo Nation and Hopi Reservation in their hour of need."

 

Before Ireland's famine began in the 1840s, some 60,000 Native Americans, including the Choctaw people, were made to relocate to new territory. The forced march, on which thousands of people died, became known as the Trail of Tears. 

Upon hearing of Ireland's suffering during the famine, in which an estimated 1 million people died, the Choctaw people sympathized and sent aid. To commemorate this generosity, in 2017 Ireland unveiled an outdoor sculpture of feathers, called "Kindred Spirits," in a park in County Cork. 

'Acts of kindness' 

The campaign organizers live in the area and include former Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch. They said that the Navajo Nation and Hopi reservation communities had high numbers of high-risk individuals, more susceptible to the virus. 

They also said a third of Navajo residents do not have running water and that typically half of the community is unemployed, while roughly three out of five people on the Hopi reservation are without jobs. 

The organizers said the funds would be used to help the communities gain access to food and water, as well as other supplies needed to help weather the coronavirus pandemic, such as personal protective equipment. 

Actor Jason Momoa, who is of Native American descent, helped the relief efforts by donating 20,000 cans of his Mananalu water, a brand which is aiming to eliminate single-use plastic drinking bottles. 

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