An Irish artist has opened his heart about why it was so important to him to honour the Choctaw Indians.
The Choctaws demonstrated great kindness to the Irish people during their darkest period – the Great Famine.
The Native American tribe were not a wealthy people, and had suffered tragedy themselves, but they raised $710 for the Irish Famine relief. That is the equivalent of €68,500 today.
Earlier this year it was revealed that the City of Cork was to recognise the generosity of the Choctaws with a sculpture in their honour.
The sculpture is called ‘Kindred Spirits’ and is a reference to the gratitude and friendship between the two communities.
It features nine steel eagle feathers rising from the ground to form the shape of an empty bowl, to symbolise the famine.
The sculpture was created by sculptor Alex Pentek, who told the Irish Examiner: “I wanted to show the courage, fragility and humanity that they displayed in my work.”
The €100,000 sculpture will be installed in Bailic Park, Middleton, Cork in a few months’ time.
East Cork’s municipal district officer Joe McCarthy has invited the Choctaw chiefs to Cork for the unveiling of the sculpture.
Pentek is hoping they will take up the invitation. He said: “These people were still recovering from their own injustice. They put their hands in their pockets and helped strangers. It’s rare to see such generosity. It had to be acknowledged.”
The Choctaw’s injustice was being forced off their land in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. The American Army forced them at gun point to walk 500 miles through the mountains and snow to their new designated home – Oklahoma.
During the three year journey the Choctaws lost 2,500 people to starvation and disease. It became known as the Trail of Tears.
Pentek said: “It was a slowly unfolding horror story. There was no food or shelter for them at stop points.
“To see members of your family drop to the side of the road and to be powerless. To change that course of history. That stirred my imagination.”
The Choctaws’ Trail of Tears had began 16 years before the Irish Famine. For a community still reeling from its own tragedy to have raised such a large sum of money for others was a remarkable act of generosity.
Take a look at an artist’s impression of the sculpture below