Ciara O'Donnell is set to study at UCC as part of The Choctaw-Ireland Scholarship Programme, which was first introduced in 2018

American student Ciara O'Donnell has been named as the next recipient of the Choctaw-Ireland Scholarship that will allow her to study at University College Cork (UCC) in Ireland.

O’Donnell, a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma in the US, was unanimously chosen by a panel made of up of Choctaw Nation members and UCC representatives. She will now go on to study for an MA in Film and Screen Media at UCC. The scholarship will see all of her tuition fees paid for as well as provide €10,000 in living expenses.

We're very excited to welcome Ciara to our Dept. and the programme! https://t.co/wr1f5bPEIM

— Film&Screen MediaUCC (@uccfilmstudies) July 20, 2020

O'Donnell said: "As the daughter of a single mother, I grew up knowing that education is a priority. This will be a life-changing experience. It will be my first time abroad and an opportunity to learn about my ancestors and their shared experiences.

"I am so thankful. I am going to take as much out of this experience as possible and make my tribe proud."

Gary Batton, 47th chief of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, welcomed the news. He told The Irish Times: “I want to say Yakoke, Thank You, to the people of Ireland for their commitment to this scholarship and wish the best of luck to Ciara as she embarks on her journey as an ambassador for the Choctaw people."

He added: “When our ancestors heard of the famine and the hardship of the Irish people, they knew it was time to help ... We have become kindred spirits with the Irish in the years since the Irish potato famine.”

Batton was on hand in 2018 when then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced the Choctaw-Ireland Scholarship Programme during a visit to Oklahoma. At the time, Varadkar said: “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.”

Leo Varadkar, Choctaw nation Indian chief Gary Batton, and Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin in Oklahoma on March 11, 2018. (RollingNews.ie)

Leo Varadkar, Choctaw nation Indian chief Gary Batton, and Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin in Oklahoma on March 11, 2018. (RollingNews.ie)

The scholarship, a partnership between The Choctaw Nation, the Chahta Foundation, and the Irish Department of Education, was instituted as a way to pay back Native Americans for the generosity they showed the Irish during The Great Famine. In 1847, the Choctaw tribe in the US donated $170 (roughly $5,000 today) to the victims of the Irish Famine, despite the tribe enduring their own hardships.

Over the past few months, Irish and Irish Americans have come together to pay back that generosity through more than €5 million worth of donations to Native Americans who were particularly struck throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

To be eligible for the Choctaw-Ireland Scholarship, applicants must be a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma; be interested in a one-year taught Masters Degree; be accepted into University College Cork (UCC) in Ireland; Interested in a degree from the College of Arts, Celtic Studies, and Social Sciences at UCC; and have a valid passport.

In May 2019, Jessica Militante, a native of California and a graduate of Stanford University, was named as the first recipient of the Choctaw-Ireland Scholarship Programme. She went on to study for her masters in Creative Writing at UCC.

In 1847, during the height of the Potato Famine in Ireland, the Choctaw Nation donated $170 to the people of Cork, despite having recently endured the trauma of the Trail of Tears. This huge act of kindness has never been forgotten by the Irish and is commemorated in the (1) pic.twitter.com/mxuBAhA80t

— Jessie Militante (@JessieMilitante) September 1, 2019

Militante told Indian Country Today that her time in Ireland “has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

“Having this opportunity to come to Cork and really get to study something that I love, and also kind of bring a little bit of awareness, even more so, to the connection between the Choctaws and the people of Cork, is something that I never even dreamed about.”