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American tribes 'overwhelmed' by donations to Covid-19 appeal including $100k pledge by U2's Larry Mullen Jr

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Two American Indian tribes admitted they were "overwhelmed" by donations including a $100,000 (€90,000) pledge from U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr.  (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

Two American Indian tribes admitted they were "overwhelmed" by donations including a $100,000 (€90,000) pledge from U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Two American Indian tribes admitted they were "overwhelmed" by donations including a $100,000 (€90,000) pledge from U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

Two American Indian tribes admitted they were "overwhelmed" by donations to their Covid-19 pandemic appeal from Ireland - including a $100,000 (£80,000) pledge from U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr.

The Navajo and Hopi tribes - located in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico in the US south west - launched the appeal three months ago after the virus cut a swathe through their communities.

Both tribes lost multiple elders to the pandemic.

Over recent weeks the appeal has been flooded with donations from Ireland in memory of how another American Indian tribe, the Choctaw, donated a total of $170 (the equivalent of around £4,000 today) to Ireland at the height of the Great Famine.

Now, the Navajo-Hopi appeal organisers said they were astounded to receive a pledge of $100,000 from Larry Mullen Jr of U2.

That donation alone will fund their work for more than 1,000 vulnerable families for almost a fortnight.

It is understood the donation was sparked by the fact the Irish band spent a lot of time in American south-west in the build-up to their smash-hit album, 'The Joshua Tree' over 30 years ago.

U2 are also renowned for their charity work - with Bono and the band members helping spearhead a campaign to secure personal protective equipment for healthcare workers two months ago.

The Hopi-Navajo appeal was organised the Utah Rural Education team of Ethel Branch, Vanessa Tulley, Delores Greyeyes, Zach Chupa and Klee Benally.

"The favour is returned through generous donations from the Irish people to the Navajo Nation during our time of crisis," Venessa said.

"In moments like these, we are so grateful for the love and support we have received from all around the world. Acts of kindness from indigenous ancestors passed being reciprocated nearly 200 years later through blood memory and interconnectedness."

"Thank you, Ireland, for showing solidarity and being here for us."

Ethel Branch said the tribes will never forget the generosity and solidarity of the Irish people - just like the Irish never forgot the kindness of what the Choctaw people had done for them.

"We are very grateful for Mr Mullen's donation and all the exceptionally generous support that has come from Ireland," she said.

Ms Branch said that, just as bonds were forged between Ireland and the Choctaw, she now hopes similar ties can be fostered between the Hopi and Navajo and Ireland.

Another volunteer Cassandra Begay said everyone remains astounded by how their appeal had resonated so strongly in Ireland.

Some 173 years ago, the Choctaw were so moved by the suffering caused by the Great Famine they ignored their own poverty to send donations across the Atlantic to Ireland in a bid to help a people they did not know and had no connection with.

The Choctaw Nation - still reeling from their own 'Trail of Tears' and struggling to adapt to the Oklahoma plains that were far from their rich ancestal homelands - donated a total of $170, a large sum of money at the time.

Their donation came after tribal elders were appalled to read about the scale of death and suffering in Ireland from repeated potato crop failures - which so vividly reminded them of what 60,000 of their people had just endured on the 'Trail of Tears'.

The Choctaw tribe, despite their own suffering and economic problems, made the donation while other wealthier nations effectively ignored the unfolding disaster in Ireland.

Queen Victoria's famine donation was so small she was derisively known in Ireland as 'The Famine Queen.'

The Choctaw gift became one of the most famous famine aid donations - and a kindness Ireland has never forgotten.

When Irish people learned of the Hopi-Navajo appeal, they flocked to help.

Its aim was to raise cash to help with medical needs, food aid and the provision of masks, hand sanitisers and personal protection equipment for the Navajo and Hopi tribes.

Launched on March 15, the appeal has now raised $4.31m (£3.5m) - almost half of it from people in Ireland or of Irish descent.

The appeal has doubled its original target figure.

Irish donors who have flocked to back the appeal underlined how they remembered what the Choctaw Nation did for Ireland in 1847.

Donor Pat Hayes said Ireland owed a debt to the American Indian tribes.

“From Ireland, 170 years later, the favour is returned - to our Native American brothers and sisters in your moment of hardship,” he said.

Maria O'Shea explained that: "Kindness not forgotten from Ireland - stay safe."

Donor Tara Pollard put it simply: "From Ireland with love."

There have been a number of high profile endorsements beyond Larry Mullen Jr including one from Game of Thrones and Aquaman star Jason Momoa.

For Ireland, what the Choctaw Nation did in 1847 ranks high in the country's debt of honour roll.

Three years ago, Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton was invited to Cork to attend the unveiling of a special statue of thanks for the 1847 famine donation.

Chief Batton explained that suffering is not unique to one nation.

“Your story in Ireland is our story," he said.

"We didn’t have any income. This was money pulled from our pockets. We had gone through the biggest tragedy that we could endure, and saw what was happening in Ireland and just felt compelled to help."

“The bond between our nations has strengthened over the years. We are blessed to have the opportunity to share our cultures, and meet the generous people who have continued to honour a gift from the heart.”

The Midleton sculpture by Cork artist Alex Pentek was entitled 'Kindred Spirits.' It was comprised of nine seven metre high eagle feathers reaching towards the sky.

The feathers were arranged in a circular shape to represent a bowl filled with food and being offered to those suffering from hunger.

East Cork Municipal Officer Joe McCarthy said it was a remarkable gesture by the Choctaw Nation in 1847.

“The Choctaw people were still recovering from their own injustice, and they put their hands in their pockets and they helped strangers.

It’s rare to see such generosity. It simply had to be acknowledged," he said.

“They bestowed a blessing not only on the starving Irish men, women and children, but also on humanity. The gift from the Choctaw people was a demonstration of love.”

The Midleton statue wasn't the first Irish demonstration of gratitude towards the Choctaw Nation.

In 1990, Choctaw leaders were invited to Mayo to take part in a special re-enactment of an 1848 famine protest.

Then in 1992, Irish leaders took part in a special 'Trail of Tears' trek from Oklahoma to Mississippi.

Former Irish President Mary Robinson was also been named an honorary Choctaw chief.

Anyone wishing to donate to the Navajo/Hopi appeal can do so at https://uk.gofundme.com/f/NHFC19Relief

Irish Independent