ADA — Two Ada residents were selected to participate in a march in Ireland in May to commemorate a time when Native Americans and the Irish banded together for a good cause.

“In 1847, a group calling itself the Memphis Committee came to the Choctaws in what was then called ‘Indian Territory,’” Ada resident Gary Whitedeer said. Whitedeer and his wife, Janie, were selected to walk in the Action from Ireland, or Afri, Famine Walk on May 26.

“The group was raising money for victims of the great famine in Ireland. A meeting was called, and $170 was collected, which translates to about $8,850 in today’s money, from very meager resources.”

Whitedeer said the story was documented in newspapers at the time, and still remains popular today.

“We know the story basically because it hit the newspaper of the times,” he said. “It first came out in a paper called the Arkansas Intelligencer. Well, 150 years later, the Irish were commemorating the Great Famine, which reached its height in 1847. So in 1997, they had a lot of commemorations about that, and this well known story in Ireland resurfaced.”

While Gary has been to Ireland a dozen times before, this was the first trip for his wife Janie.

“I think it’s reflective of the Irish people,” she said, regarding the warm Irish welcome. “They’re very generous and very kind and respectful, and you can see how much it affected them and their history and how much they appreciated it. When you have that experience of knowing what it’s like to be oppressed or to have a horrendous holocaustic type of experience, then that opens you up in a way to where you can reach out and help other people.”

Gary said the remembrance still keeps the two races bonded to this day.

“It’s like an arrow that was shot through time,” he said. “This small, but very significant donation that the Choctaw people made in 1847, the humanity of that in remembrance, keeps reoccurring and creates new instances were the Choctaw and Irish still come together.”

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