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Eternal Heart Sculpture to Honor Choctaw/Ireland Relationship to be Unveiled at Choctaw Nation Capitol

Published May 4, 2023

DURANT, Okla. – A sculpture honoring the relationship between the Choctaw Nation and the people of Ireland will soon be erected on the Choctaw Capitol grounds in Tuskahoma, Oklahoma. The project is funded jointly by the Choctaw Nation and the Government of Ireland. The piece, titled “Eternal Heart,” was selected after a call for submissions was initiated last year.

Samuel Stitt, of Spokane Valley, Washington, a member of the Choctaw Nation, submitted the winning entry. “Eternal Heart” combines a Celtic trinity shape intertwined with a heart.

“There is no beginning or end to the overall piece – thus, it is eternal,” Stitt said.

The sculpture will have a very specific orientation, with the heart – representing the Choctaw Nation – facing toward Ireland.

March marked the 176th anniversary of the Choctaw people mustering a gift of $170 to ease suffering of the Irish during the potato famine. The gift was even more significant due to the Choctaws having just completed their trek on the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma.

The sculpture display will include an informational sign and winding path.

“All the elements are symbolic and created with specific references in mind,” Stitt said.

The concrete base for the 8-foot-tall piece is edged with diamond shapes, a Choctaw symbol of reverence to the diamondback snake. The sculpture will sit atop a mound, honoring the heritage of mound-building of the Choctaw ancestors as well as the ancient “hill forts” and mounds found in Ireland. Even the winding footpath represents the Trail of Tears, with the exact orientation mirroring the arduous route from the Mississippi homelands to Indian Country.

The “Kindred Spirit” sculpture, unveiled in 2015 in Cork, Ireland, symbolizes the connection and appreciation of the Irish for the Choctaw people.

“I want to congratulate Samuel Stitt on being awarded the commission,” said Ireland’s Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister), and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin T.D. “Last year, as Taoiseach, and together with Chief Gary Batton, I announced the launch of this new project, which is intended to serve as a permanent legacy in Tuskahoma of the solidarity that exists between our peoples, just like the sculpture in Bailick Park, Midleton in County Cork.”

    'Kindred Spirits' Sculpture

Cork, Ireland

                                    A tribute to the incredible generosity the Choctaw Nation

                                   showed the Irish people during the Great Famine. 
Kindred Spirits sculpture. MIKE SEARLE (CC BY-SA 2.0)
 

THE YEAR 1847 WAS AN extremely difficult one for the Irish people. Known as “Black 47,” this was the worst year of the famine in Ireland, where close to one million people were starving to death. Humanitarian aid came from around the world, but the unexpected generosity of the Choctaw Nation stands out, and began a bond between the two people that continues to this day.

The Choctaw Native Americans raised $170 of their own money—equivalent to thousands of dollars today— in aid to supply food for the starving Irish. This exemplifies the incredible generosity of the Choctaw people, because just 16 years before, they were forced by U.S. President Andrew Jackson to leave their ancestral lands and march 500 miles on the “Trail of Tears,” in terrible winter conditions. Many did not survive.

Today, the Irish people are still grateful for the generosity of the Choctaw people. A monument stands in Midleton’s Bailick Park as a tribute to the tribe’s charity during the Great Famine. Named “Kindred Spirits,” the magnificent memorial features nine giant stainless steel feathers, shaped into an empty bowl.

The creator, artist Alex Pentak, explained, “I wanted to show the courage, fragility and humanity that they displayed in my work.”

Beyond the monument, there are many other examples of the continued link between the Irish and Choctaw people. In 1990, several Choctaw leaders took part in the first annual Famine walk at Doolough in County Mayo; two years later, Irish commemoration leaders walked the 500 mile length of the Trail of Tears. A former Irish president is now an honorary Choctaw Chief. Most importantly, both Choctaw and Irish people now work together to provide assistance for people suffering from famine worldwide.

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