thanks Native American community for generosity during Famine
Leo Varadkar watches a cultural display from members of the
Choctaw nation at the Choctaw tribal council in Oklahoma on
day two of his US visit. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Varadkar has announced a new scholarship for Choctaw people
to study in Ireland, as
he paid his first visit to the Native American community in Oklahoma.
Addressing members of the Choctaw nation at a ceremony in Durant,
Oklahoma, on Tuesday, Mr Varadkar said the new scholarship would
begin in the autumn of next year.
This is an opportunity for us to learn from you and from
your culture, and you from ours, in a sharing of knowledge that
will enrich both our peoples, he said in his speech.
Mr Varadkar made the visit to thank the Choctaw community for
their donation to Irish Famine victims in the 1840s. In 1847, despite
undergoing their own hardship as they were moved off their native
lands by the US government, the Choctaw tribe donated $170 to the
victims of the Irish Famine in the 1840s the equivalent of
about €4,000 in todays money.
The tribe has more recently donated money to Irish causes. The
Choctaw nation donated $8,000 to the Shell to Sea campaign in November
2007. Representative Waylon
Gary White Deer announced the donation when he visited north
that year, speaking at the annual hedge school run by the NGO Afri.
The money came from unspent funds collected in Ireland and the US
for Choctaw victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Speaking at a reception to mark the visit, Mr Varadkar said
the act of kindness to Famine sufferers had never been, and
never will be, forgotten in Ireland.
He presented Chief Gary
Batton, the 47th chief of the Choctaw nation, with a hurley
and a copy of the Atlas of the Great Irish Famine. The ceremony,
which began with a Native American prayer, also included traditional
dance and music from the Choctaw tribe.
Mr Batton said that both nations have shared a similar
history of tragedy, perseverance and strength.
Mr Varadkars visit comes less than a year after Chief Batton
was welcomed by President Michael
D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin in June. He and
a delegation of more than 15 representatives from the Choctaw nation
also visited Midleton
in Co Cork for a ceremony to celebrate the designation of a specially
commissioned sculpture to mark the act of generosity.
Entitled Kindred Spirits, the sculpture by Cork-based sculptor
Pentek is designed
in the shape of a food bowl and commemorates the donation.
Earlier in the day, Mr Varadkar met Oklahoma governor Mary
Fallin who has strong Irish roots and is a close ally of US