Leo Varadkar announced a scholarship for Choctaw Native American students while visiting Oklahoma. The first scholarship will begin in 2019.
The Taoiseach thanked the members of the Choctaw nation and their ancestors, who provided relief to Ireland during the Great Famine. In 1847, the Choctaw who resided in Oklahoma collected the sum of $170 in aid of the Irish. This sum would amount to about €4000 today.
Varadkar is the first Taoiseach to visit the Choctaw community and thanked the community in a speech. In this speech, Varadkar commended them for showing “compassion to a starving people, who were dying in their hundreds of thousands”. Varadkar said that the Irish and the Choctaw community have a “sacred bond” that “has joined our people’s together for all time”.
The visit is part of Varadkar’s week long trip around America as part of St. Patrick’s day celebrations. The trip, according a government statement, aims to “advance Ireland’s economic and political interests” and to celebrate “cultural and community ties”. During this trip, Varadkar is due to meet President Donald Trump at the White House.
The visit began with a Native American prayer and also included music and traditional dance from the Choctaw nation. The Taoiseach also presented the Choctaw nation Chief Gary Batton with a hurley and a copy of the Atlas of the Great Irish Famine.
In 2017, Batton and a delegation of representatives from the Choctaw nation of Oklahoma visited Ireland. While visiting, the group attended the unveiling of a piece of sculpture, entitled Kindred Spirits, by Cork-based sculptor Alex Pentek. The sculpture was a tribute to the community for their donation.
Gary Batton said while visiting “Your story is our story”. Batton added: “We had gone through the biggest tragedy that we could endure, and saw what was happening in Ireland and just felt compelled to help.”
The Government of Ireland currently has an International Education Scholarship Programme. The scholarships are awarded to high calibre students from non-EEA countries to study in Ireland for one year. A total of 60 scholarships will be funded for the academic year 2018/2019 across all participating Irish Higher Education Institutions.
Varadkar said at the event that “our ancestors were joined together in a time of tragedy; our descendants will be united by a spirit of hope”.