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SPEECH ON THE OCCASION OF HER VISIT TO THE CHOCTAW TRIBAL COMPLEX

SPEECH BY THE PRESIDENT OF IRELAND, MARY ROBINSON, ON THE OCCASION OF HER VISIT TO THE CHOCTAW TRIBAL COMPLEX, DURANT, OKLAHOMA

Chahta i yakne ala li kut nasa yukpa.

(I am glad to come to Choctaw country.)

It is appropriate on this brief visit to Oklahoma that I should begin by again expressing, on behalf of the people and government of Ireland, my sincerest sympathy on the tragic loss of life in the bombing in Oklahoma City last month. To all who have suffered in this dreadful outrage, we offer our solidarity and our support. In conveying our condolences, I would like to make particular mention of the Secret Service, who lost six of their staff in the bombing, including agents who may well have been here today, and the Choctaw people themselves who lost one of their members, and several dear friends from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

My Choctaw Friends

I am delighted to be here today and to see so many familiar faces. I remember listening with great pride to the story of the links between the Choctaw and the Irish people when you visited me at my Residence, Áras an Uachtaráin. I am honoured to have been invited to visit you; it is particularly appropriate that I have an opportunity to do so just as Ireland is beginning the commemoration of the Anniversary of the Irish Famine. Nearly 150 years ago in April 1947, at a time when the effect of man's indifference to the Choctaw people was still very recent, a meeting took place of the Choctaw Tribal Council in Skullyville in Indian Territory. There, the Council was informed of the Famine in a country thousands of miles away and, according to a local newspaper, The Arkansas Intelligencer, a collection of $170 was taken up and forwarded to a committee in Memphis for the relief of the starving poor of Ireland.

This gesture by the Choctaw people, coming at a time when Ireland was facing the greatest calamity in its history, was and is extraordinarily special. For Irish people in the generations since the Famine, this wonderful donation, and the enormous generosity of the Choctaw people, has been an important part of our folk memory. This gift, so much from those who could afford so little, has given the Choctaw people a unique and cherished place in Irish history, and in the imagination and hearts of our people.

The migration from Ireland to the New World, which began at the time of the Famine, has established enduring transatlantic links between the United States and Ireland. Some forty million people in the United States proudly claimed Irish ancestry in the last U.S. census. But the Irish diaspora also embraces those without Irish roots who supported and helped us through their generosity and their solidarity; of those, the members of the Choctaw Nation hold the highest place in our hearts.

The legacy of your generosity during our own disaster in Ireland 150 years ago has inspired and motivated the reaction of Irish people to famine in our modern world. The public response in Ireland to pictures of famine and destitution in Africa has been overwhelming. Contributions to assist with relief in Somalia and Rwanda have been among the highest per capita in the world. During my own visits to Somalia and Rwanda, it has been a source of enormous pride to me to see the extraordinary commitment and dedication of Ireland aid workers as they seek to comfort and nourish the oppressed and starving victims of greed, inhumanity and political immorality.

My dear friend, your inspired and deeply touching gift in 1847 began a relationship between the Choctaw people and Ireland which not only endures but, as this visit testifies, is deepening and developing all the time. I know too that, whenever we see the tragedy and the scandal of suffering in to-day's world, our peoples will always jointly bear witness to that generosity of spirit and depth of concern that brought us together 150 years ago.

Ant ish pe nowa chike, Yakoke.

(If possible come to visit us, Thank You.)