Native American tribal leader who has settle in the Gaeltacht area of Donegal says “he feels a connection to the spirit of the land around Mount Errigal” where he now lives.
Gary Issi-Tohibi – or White Deer of the Choctaws who has lived in Ireland four months told the Irish Independent that “There is a great sense of place here” and that he feels at “home”.
In fact a strong bond between the Choctaws and Irish dates back to the the Potato famine of 1847 when having learned of the Irish struggle similar in many ways to their own, united together to raise funds for famine relief.
The Choctaws donated an extraordinary sum of $170 worth tens of thousands by today standards. This was an amazing feat considering the hardship the Choctaws endured only years previous
In the War of 1812 the Choctaws had been allies of then-General Andrew Jackson in his campaign against the British in New Orleans, despite this the Choctaws were forced to march from their ancestral lands in 1831 by none other than Andrew Jackson, who was in fact the son of Irish emigrants.
The Choctaws then embarked on a 500 mile treacherous trek across america to find settlement which was known as “The Trail of Tears”. The winter of this year was the coldest on record and without adequate food, clothing and transport over half the Choctaw tribe were wiped out.
The years during and immediately following this journey were very difficult for the tribal people and those that did not perish faced hardships from malnutrition, disease and the struggle of establishing new lives.
Only sixteen years had passed since the Choctaws themselves had faced hunger and death on the first “Trail of Tears”, and a great empathy was felt when they heard such a similar story coming from across the ocean. In the height of the Famine “Black 47” when close to a million Irish were starving to death relief was found from one of the most unlikely of sources.
Even today the bond between the Choctaws and the Irish is Strong, in 1990 some Choctaw leaders took part in the first annual Famine walk, a recreation of the desperate walk by locals to a local landlord in 1848. In 1992 Irish activists took part in the 500 mile trek of the “The Trail of Tears” along with the Choctaw Tribe.
This could not be possible without the good work of Choctaw leader Gary White Deer and Irish activists such as Don Mullen who was made an honorary Chief along with Mary Robinson. Since then both groups work together and are determined to help famine sufferers mostly in Africa and other developing areas to continue to give the “gift”.
In 1992 a plaque was unveiled in Dublin’s Mansion House that honors the Choctaw contribution and it reads:
“Their humanity calls us to remember the millions of human beings throughout our world today who die of hunger and hunger-related illness in a world of plenty.”
According to the Irish Independent Choctaw leader Gary White Deer “lives in a small cottage in the townland of Cashel na gCorr, near Gortahork and overlooking Mount Errigal. He has thrown himself into life in rural Donegal, learning Irish phrases and going to the bog.He passes his days in the Donegal countryside painting and working on a new novel that looks at the modern day tribe.”
We believe that you carry a piece of your home with you wherever you go so that is with me today here in Donegal. It is a very easy place to feel the spirit of the land. , the spirit of the land is very much here,
Choctaw leader Gary White Deer