Irish people help raise millions for Native Americans hit by the pandemic to repay century old favor

In the darkest time of the COVID-19 pandemic, the odds are stacked against the Navajo and Hopi families. Native Americans are in a troubled spot as the world fights against the virus. The disparity of healthcare services and the growing healthy inequity puts Native American citizens at higher risk of contracting liver and respiratory diseases, among many other illnesses.

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Today, Navajo and Hopi share the same dilemma with the rest of Native American families in the time of the COVID-19 crisis. Tribes in the west suffer from overcrowded houses and lack of water supplies. Some houses even shelter up to 15 members because of limited housing. “The overcrowded home situation is at least 16 times the national average,” said Kevin J. Allis, CEO of the National Congress of American Indians.

We’ve already seen a spike in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases where areas with Native American families are living in one house. Despite the state’s campaign of social distancing and regular washing of hands, families in these areas cannot avoid close-proximity contact because of their living arrangements. Studies also show that 30% of homes in the Navajo nation don’t have running water.

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$10 billion of government funding is currently allocated for relief programs. But the animosity between Indian groups and the government remains over when and how the money will be distributed. Allis explains how tribal leaders are doing their best to keep their communities safe from the virus.

The Navajos have instituted strict curfews, checkpoints, and mass testing to curb the rising number of cases. However, not all people own mobile phones. When someone tests positive, authorities have a hard time tracking them down.

Now that the world has seen the plight of Native Americans, a GoFundMe campaign was created to raise money for families of the Navajo and Hopi citizens. The news got around, and donations from Irish people began pouring.

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What drove the Irish people all the way across the Atlantic to help? It was an act of gratitude for what the Native Americans have done to help Ireland during the “Great Hunger” of the 1800s. Let’s take a quick history review.

Back in the mid-1800s, the Choctaw Nation provided $170 (equivalent to $5000 today) to the Irish. The most moving part of the Choctaw Nation’s generosity was how 60,000 Native Americans suffered through the Trail of Tears. Despite the hardships and anguish they already experienced, they continued with their donations, helping thousands of people in Ireland live through the famine.

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One hundred seventy-three years later, Ireland has still never forgotten the kindness extended by the Navajo to their country. “From Ireland, 170 years later, the favour is returned,” Pat Hayes, an Irish donor, wrote in a message. “To our Native American brothers and sisters in your moment of hardship!”

The fundraising page is now both flooded with both heartfelt messages and donations. “Yá’át’ ééh from Ireland. The Native American donation all those years ago was never forgotten. There have been songs written about your generosity,” one comment said. “I am glad to be able to return the favour in some small part. Ahóá!”

Almost 44,000 people were able to donate to the GoFundMe campaign, with nearly $ 2.4 million out of the $ 3 million target.

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The GoFundMe page was updated with this message: “Hi folks! My apologies on a delayed update! My last update was 11 days ago, and I reported then that we had broken the $1 million fundraising mark. Well we have now broken the $2 million mark, in good part due to a beautiful act of solidarity from our friends in Ireland, who remember the kindness shown to them by our Choctaw brothers and sisters, who sent them aid during the great potato famine in 1847. Thank you so much, Ireland!!!”

Native American families have lost so much in the time of the pandemic. The Navajo and Hopi tribes have lost elders and children to the disease. “In moments like these, we are grateful for the love and support we have received from all around the world,” Vanessa Tulley, one of the organizers, said.

“Acts of kindness from indigenous ancestors passed being reciprocated nearly 200 years later through blood memory and inter-connectedness. Thank you, IRELAND, for showing solidarity and being here for us.”

The amount of donations support by the Native Americans is proof that we cannot beat COVID-19 alone. Acts like these are what bring us closer together, restoring the faith we have for humanity.

Find out more about the campaign by watching the video below: