Choctaw artist Waylon Gary White
Deer has settled so well in Ireland that he's appeared in Fair
City and even counted the late Martin McGuinness among his friends,
writes Aisling Meath.
Gary White Deer settled in Ireland in 2012 and now lives in
the Donegal Gaeltacht.
"Waylon Gary White Deer will always be welcome in Ireland,"
wrote the late Martin McGuinness in his introduction to the 2012
book Touched By Thunder, a memoir by the artist from the Choctaw
nation tribe, who now calls Ireland home.
"I live in the Donegal Gaeltacht, a place where the native community
speak a language among themselves," says White Deer.
He is known as Gary by most of the Irish friends he has made
he since he was first invited to visit in 1995, mainly as a result
of Irish Choctaw Famine commemorations and links. He settled here
permanently in 2012.
White Deer participated in the Famine Commemorations in Skibbereen
in 2009, led several Afri Famine walks in Mayo, and met Damien Dempsey
for the first time filming for RTÉ's Nationwide as Damien
was singing 'Choctaw Nation'.
They have since become firm friends.
He also made an appearance in an episode of Fair City in 2013,
performed Choctaw songs at the Electric picnic, and was once asked
to ride a horse down Grafton Street to advertise a brand of fast
food an offer which he declined!
In his former life in Ada Oklahoma, White Deer and his now ex-wife
Sarah raised seven children supported almost entirely on earnings
from his painting.
He inherited this gift from his father Gilbert, nicknamed 'Chief',
who used to wake from his dreams and go straight to the kitchen
table to paint what he saw.
Chief was influenced by his friend Apache artist Alan Houser,
and used a traditional style known as 'flatwork'.
The Choctaw traditionally believe that we dwell in tandem with
the spirit world who will inspire "if you know how to listen".
detail from White Deer's painting, 'Choctaw Donation to Ireland'.
White Deer attended the Institute of American Indian Arts studying
under Fritz Scholder, who sought to deconstruct the mythos of the
'American Indian' depicting them with beer cans and American flags.
After his children grew up, White Deer says he followed a sense
of inner 'go with the flow' that eventually found him staying permanently
He travels back and forth to visit his family and see his grandchildren.
He paints constantly, often with an eclectic variety of music playing
in the background.
"As well as an inner sense of my own culture it's the wind,
the sea and the landscape of this part of Donegal which inspires
my painting now. Recently waves have started to appear in my work,"
"Growing up in Oklahoma, I remember white kids pinched you if
you were not wearing green on St Patrick's Day. I learned of the
1847 Choctaw donation to Famine Ireland when I was in Indian boarding
school," he says, referring to when a collection among impoverished
Choctaws raised the then substantial sum of $170 for famine-relief
"With stories there are two kinds that matter, those we feel,
and those we know because they happened to us. We carry both kinds
beneath our skin, like hidden tattoos. My stories happened to me
so I know them pretty well," reflects White Deer
'Those songs and stories I thought I was meant to feel or know
I tried to remember, or else they made places within me. In Indian
country we don't chase after stories or songs. They come around
to where we are. Just like an arrow shot through time which I depict
in one of my paintings.'
His ethnicity has often been a source of confusion for Irish
people but he takes it all in his stride.
'Last year an older gentleman asked me how long it took me to
fly to India, and I told him I think you have the wrong Indian.
I've been mistaken for John Rocha twice, and ended up saying I was
Bob Rocha, John Rocha's American cousin for a bit of craic, but
I'm not American either. I'm Choctaw," he says.
His grandmother told him that his last name came from a man
called 'Issi Tohbi' which means White Deer in his native tongue.
"It was the only name he had. In those days they had only one
name, not like today," he says.
'There are at least three hundred tribal nations in the place
they now call America, with different languages and cultures. I
like the phrase 'First Nations' rather than ' Native Americans'.
Perhaps what we witnessed in the Dakota Access Pipeline standoff
were re -emerging First Nations Sovereignties.' he continued.
White Deer has received painting commissions from the Irish
State, and Donegal County Council and has also painted a mural on
the walls of Derry.
"While working on the mural in Derry, the nationalism there
influenced my own sense of tribal sovereignty, just as it does today.
"Among other things my paintings try and show how alive
with spirit our tribal ways are, and to help move them forward into
"The beautiful ancient culture of Ireland that was once
suppressed should also be cherished," he says.
Gary White Deer
Waylon Gary White Deer is a Choctaw artist and author. His solo
painting exhibitions include the Irish Cultural Center in New York
and the American Embassy in Dublin. In 2010 he was the subject of
an Associated Press profile interview which appeared in over 200
major newspapers worldwide. His memoir, Touched by Thunder, was
published in Ireland by Currach Press in 2012, and republished in
America by Left Coast Press in 2013.
Gaeltacht is an Irish-language word used to denote any primarily
Irish-speaking region. In Ireland, the term Gaeltacht refers individually
to any, or collectively to all, of the districts where the government
recognises that the Irish language is the predominant vernacular,
or language of the home. The boundaries of the Gaeltacht have
included a high percentage of resident English-speakers since British