Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and Ireland: ‘Pay it forward’ campaign

Exhibited by
Marie Quirke
July 08, 2021
Medium of Communication
Target Audience
All donors
Type of Charity
International aid
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance

SOFII’s view

In 1847, the Choctaw Native American tribe donated what money they had to help the people of Ireland affected by the potato famine. And the Irish didn’t forget. Because 173 years later, when coronavirus threatened the Choctaw, they leapt at the chance to ‘pay it forward’ and return the favour, donating over US$2 million to the cause. This shows the power of history and the ties between people. It also shows the power of giving and how it can resonate with beneficiaries, But perhaps most of all, it shows the power of effective storytelling.


Journey with me to Oklahoma in 1847. The Choctaw were forcibly removed from their land and resettled west of the Mississippi in Oklahoma. This journey was over 600 miles in harsh conditions, during which thousands died. It was called the ‘Trail of Tears’. On the other side of the Atlantic, people in Ireland were also resettled, in this case to small holdings where the only viable crop to grow was the potato. 

The crop failed as blight hit many countries in Europe but especially Ireland. It was probably down to the resultant wave of Irish immigration to the USA that the Choctaw learned of the plight of the Irish people across the ocean. They became part of a list of international donors who gave humanitarian aid to the Irish. Even though the list included the likes of the UK’s own Queen and the Ottoman Empire (and the gift from the tribe was the lowest in dollar value) the Choctaw’s generosity resonated with the people in Ireland. 

The relationship between the Choctaw Nation and Ireland continued to grow but the engagement was really ramped up in the nineties, with events in 1990, 1992 and 1995. Then in 2018, a St Patrick’s Day visit by Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar had a bit impact. Little did he know that on St Patrick’s Day, two years later, the Choctaw would record their first case of coronavirus. For any indigenous population, as we know in Australia, coronavirus can cause huge problems.

Creator / originator

The people of the Choctaw Nation and the people of Ireland.

Summary / objectives

When coronavirus started to have a big impact on the Choctaw Native American people, they turned to GoFundMe to ask for help. But their community was not expecting what happened next.

Special characteristics

The Choctaw Nation (a charity that represents the interests and needs of the Choctaw people) set up a GoFundMe page to reach out to existing donors and the broader population of the United States of America. Then something pretty unusual started to happen. Someone in Ireland picked up on this campaign on Twitter. They knew the backstory and the history. And it was time to repay that amazing gift from 1847. For the people in the back end of the page it must have started to look like an Irish phone book! 

Other relevant information

The Choctaw have a word called ‘ima’ which means to give with no strings attached. This was certainly the case when they donated in 1847 and when the Irish people returned the favour in 2020.

Influence / impact

Why do I love this campaign? It shows firstly that overseas aid is still important to people at a time when research says it’s at odds with our instincts. You just need a good case for support and a good proposition, and the donors won’t let you down. It also highlights an intergenerational connection that revived the story of 1847, supported by a digital platform. It’s a pretty funky acquisition: thousands of new Irish donors with a unique connection to the cause. Finally, the relationship was everything and reminds us to think long term, maybe even very long term! 


In no time at all, the Irish contingent had contributed over US$2 million. 

You can watch Marie’s video here:

* This campaign was presented by Marie Quirke at the I Wish I’d Thought of That (IWITOT) session at DigiRaise 2020 in Australia.

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Like a lot of indigenous people around the world, the Choctaw were particularly vulnerable to coronavirus.
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The friendship between the Choctaw Nation and Ireland goes back to 1847 and has been celebrated regularly since the 1990s.
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Former Taoiseach of Ireland Leo Varadkar met Gary Batton, Chief of the Choctaw Nation, in 2018 in Oklahoma; photo © Niall Carson / PA Images.
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The campaign went viral in Ireland and led to a huge spike in donations, with many news outlets reporting on the story.