ADA - Local resident Gary White Deer made his 14th trip to Ireland this past October in support of Shell to Sea, a grass-roots Irish based movement of local’s trying to persuade Shell Oil Company to place a planned oil refinery off-shore instead of on land in County Mayo.

White Deer, who is Choctaw and a Native American artist, first traveled to Ireland 12 years ago to represent his Choctaw ancestors at the annual Afri (Action from Ireland) famine walk. The famine walk commemorates the struggle of the Irish people at the height of the great Irish famine and raises consciousness about famine in the world today.

“In 1847, which was the height of the great famine in Ireland, the Choctaw here, in what became Oklahoma, donated $170 to help the Irish people. This happened while removal from Mississippi was still going on,” said White Deer.

“There was a specific incident that happened where the people of Dooloug, in County Mayo, walked about 10 miles to the residence of the British officials in Louisburgh to ask for food. Their request was denied. Walking back a storm came up and many of them were blown into the sea.”

It is estimated that over a million people died during the Irish famine which lasted from 1845 to 1852. Another million or more left Ireland and immigrated to the United States, Canada, and Australia.

White Deer originally became involved in the famine walk through a postcard he designed.

“Don Mullen, who is Dublin based and was at the time the director of Afri, received a postcard from the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma that I had designed,” said White Deer. “He wanted to use the postcard design on T-shirts to raise money for the famine that was happening in Somalia. That’s how I initially became involved with Afri and I was invited to participate in the walk.”

White Deer, along with his wife, Dr. Janie Zah-White Deer, were asked to be the walk leaders for the famine walk this past May.

“It was a historic occasion,” said White Deer. “It was very reflective and it also rekindled that old link between the Choctaw and the Irish.”

It was during the May famine walk that White Deer was introduced to the Shell to Sea cause.

“Shell to Sea is in County Mayo as well,” said White Deer. “It is a pristine and beautiful area. Shell oil company is wanting to put a big oil refinery right in the middle of this pristine area. Shell could locate the refinery off-shore, but they don’t want to do that because it is more profitable for them to have it on land.

“Shell to Sea is an organization of ordinary people - school teachers, farmers, and house wives. They are not radical people. When I was there in May I told them I wanted to come back and help them in some way.”

And that is exactly what White Deer did in October by making an $8,000 donation to Shell to Sea which coincidentally is equal to the amount of money that the Choctaws in Oklahoma gave during the Irish famine in today’s dollars. White Deer made the donation as a representative of Choctaw Hurricane Aid, Relief and Assistance, which is a group that was formed to help Mississippi Choctaw victims of Hurricane Katrina.

“My wife and I started an organization called project CHARA and its purpose was to raise money for the Mississippi Choctaw victims of Hurricane Katrina,” said White Deer. “Other board members included two Mississippi Choctaws, Dr. Ken York and Nathaniel Nickey. My friend Don Mullen helped us to raise money for this cause in Ireland through an organization called Children in Crossfire. Father David Hamm also deserves credit in helping us. He is a missionary to the Choctaws in Mississippi.”

CHARA was successful in raising money to help the hurricane victims. When they were ready to disband the organization CHARA still had just over $8,000 left in their bank account.

“I persuaded the board to donate the $8,000 that was left to Shell to Sea through Afri. When I went in October to donate the money I was representing the CHARA board. I wanted to do that because Shell to Sea is a small grass-roots group of people who are fighting a big multi-national corporation who has ties to the Irish government,” White Deer said.

“It’s all interrelated. We’re keeping the circle going between the Choctaw and the Irish in contemporary terms. It’s within the spirit of giving. I’m always humble to represent the Choctaw - Irish link and to represent the ancestors.”

During White Deer’s October visit to Ireland he was invited to visit with Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. He also visited with Nemeton Television Productions about doing a documentary over the Choctaw famine donation to Ireland. Nemeton is an Irish based media company.

“I always enjoy going to Ireland,” said White Deer, “but it’s always great to come home. I’m proud to live in Ada.”

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