Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visited the Choctaw Nation reservation on Monday, announcing a new scholarship to allow members of the Choctaw Nation to study in Ireland.
Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar continued his U.S. Saint Patrick’s Day visit on Monday with a visit to the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma, announcing a new scholarship program to thank their people for the aid they sent during the Great Hunger.
In 1847, the Choctaw Nation raised $170 for the Irish people (equivalent to thousands of dollars in 2018) to help ease their suffering during Black ‘47, the worst year of the Irish famine. This remarkable act of kindness came just after almost half of the Choctaw Nation were lost on the infamous Trail of Tears, as their people were driven from their land by American settlers and perished due to starvation.
Announcing the new scholarship program, that will allow members of the Choctaw Native American community to come to Ireland to study, the Taoiseach thanked them for their generosity at a time when the Irish people were at their lowest.
“For me, the story of our two peoples symbolizes the spirit of St. Patrick better than anything else,” Varadkar said.
“Back in the nineteenth century, when the Irish people were oppressed, abused, neglected and degraded by our colonial master, at our lowest, your spirit of generosity was at its highest.
“You showed compassion to a starving people, who were dying in their hundreds of thousands, or about to embark on our own ‘Trail of Tears’ across the Atlantic Ocean to seek a new life in Canada or the United States.”
The Taoiseach continued to say that the act of kindness had a lasting effect on the Irish people and that its “impact was more than the lives that were saved 171 years ago.”
"It is seen in the way it made us think of our fellow human beings when they are suffering and in distress. To always look outwards as a nation,” Varadkar said.
“It reminded us of the value of compassion, and encouraged us to try to become a beacon of hope around the world.”
The scholarship program is set to commence in summer 2019.
The Taoiseach’s visit continued on Tuesday in Washington D.C. where he will deliver a foreign policy address to the Brookings Institution. On Tuesday evening, the Taoiseach and Senator George Mitchell will be keynote speakers at a Congressional event marking the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
Taoiseach Varadkar will meet with President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday and Friday. The Taoiseach has said he plans to question the President and VP on immigration and LGBT rights.