The nine eagle feathers tower 20 feet into the Irish sky ... Built to honor a donation by the Choctaw Nation to the people of Ireland during the Great Potato Famine, Pentek has spent more than a year sculpting a work he’s named “Kindred Spirits.”
Scheduled to be unveiled in May in Bailic Park in Middleton, a small town of 12,000 not far from Ireland’s southern coast in County Cork, a plaque in the middle of the structure will detail how in 1847, the impoverished Choctaw Nation was able to scrape together $170 to send to Ireland to help feed starving people. The sum would be close to $5,000 in today’s money. But it’s not the size of the long-ago gift that resonates with Irish nationals today, but the sacrifice required to make it.
... Joe McCarthy, who today serves as East Cork’s municipal district officer, said ... "just when they thought nobody cared, a group from across the world reached out to lend a helping hand. These 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 had to be acknowledged.”
Struggling through harsh conditions, 17,000 Choctaws would attempt the perilous journey, which came to be known as the Trail of Tears. They would be met with disease, starvation and exposure during one of the coldest winters on record. More than 6,000 Choctaws died. “It was a death march,” Pentek said ...
When word reached them about the plight of the Irish, the familiarity of the stories opened wounds that had just started to heal, said Chief Gary Batton, the tribe’s current-day leader. Despite their situation, impoverished and homeless, the Choctaw people pooled their money to send to Ireland.
Batton said it was the tribe’s way of saying, “Your story is our story.”
Now, 168 years later, the selflessness of the Choctaw Nation still is taught in Irish schools with an emphasis on the fact that they gave even when the couldn’t afford to do so.