During these stressful and tragic days, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged by the lies, greed, incompetence, and lack of compassion in the present occupant of the White House.What we must remember is that there are still people and groups who are seeking to do the best of things in the worst of times. My friend and Disciples pastor Rick Williams recently posted an example of such goodness on Facebook. I’m sure we will never hear of this example on the news and certainly not from the Twitter barrages from our narcissistic President who believes the world revolves around his ego. However, Rick has discovered a splendid and extraordinary example of sharing, solidarity, and compassion.
During the Great Potato Famine in Ireland (1845-1849), the Choctaw Nation along with other tribes donated $170 to Ireland for famine relief. I know that doesn’t sound like much today, but in the mid-nineteenth century, that was a lot of money. What is so amazing about this gift is that the Choctaw and other nations from the Southeast had recently suffered through infamous and illegal relocations to lands foreign to them and their way of life. These unjust relocations occurred from 1831 to 1842 and included the following First Nations: Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee, Seminole, and Cherokee. The number of natives who died on these forced marches numbers between 8700-17,000. (Exact numbers are not known. Whites, for whom “the only good Indian was a dead Indian,” were not inclined to keep accurate records.) The relocation of the Cherokee is known as the Trail of Tears. One in four of the Cherokee died as they were brutally forced to abandon their ancestral lands. This great tragedy was the result of a Presidential order from Andrew Jackson. The U. S. Supreme Court had ruled that the treaties made with these nations by the U. S. government were binding, and, therefore, Jackson had no right to order the relocation of these native people. Jackson’s reply to this court decision was, “John Marshal (the chief justice of the Supreme Court) has made his decision. Now, let him enforce it.” The court’s decision was ignored, and Jackson ordered the illegal and lethal relocation of thousands of First Nations people. Unfortunately (as we are now witnessing), Jackson would not be the only President in our history to violate the Constitution and the law of the land.
In spite of their suffering and poverty, the Choctaw still managed to feel compassion for the Irish during the Great Potato Famine and collected money for the relief of a people they had never met and who lived on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The Irish farmed wheat, beets, and turnips as well as potatoes. When a blight destroyed their potato crops from 1845-1849, they could have survived on other foods they grew. However, the British confiscated these other possible foods to feed British troops. One million men, women, and children died as a result of this famine. I would imagine the Choctaw could identify with the Irish who has suffered greatly for years under British oppression.
So, why does this have relevance for today? Irish Central News reports that $1.5 million has been donated through GoFundMe. This money is specifically designated to provide relief to the Navajo and Hopi families who are brutally affected by the Coronavirus. According to the GoFundMe website, the donation campaign is meant to return the favor to Indigenous people who helped the Irish during a separate crisis more than 170 years ago.
These two interrelated examples of compassion between strangers based on compassion thrill my soul! The Choctaw understood the suffering of another oppressed people and did what they could do relieve suffering. The Irish never forgot this kindness. Some may call this karma. I call it compassion which must always seek to be concrete and is always based on solidarity. When we compare the responses of the Choctaw and the Irish to the blatant scrambling for billions of dollars by CEOs and wealthy companies and institutions all made possible by a corrupt White House and a heartless Senate Majority leader, I have no doubt which groups reflect the justice and compassion Jesus came to proclaim and incarnate. Jesus talked about small seeds growing in the ground which would sprout. He also talked about leaven Jewish women kneaded into their flour—leaven which did its secret work. He said the Kingdom of God is like that. Such a Kingdom comes in these behind-the-scenes, unrecognized and unheralded ways. The Choctaw and the Irish apparently know the ways of this secret Kingdom of God. Our government and nation have much to learn about seeds planted and leaven rising. But learn we must if we are to survive as a democracy of, for, and by all the people.