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Matthew 25:35 I was hungry and you fed me.

The story of the treatment of Native people is a dark spot on the history of this great land. As we heard yesterday, the land remembers and bears witness, even when we forget.

There are many parts of that story that are painful to remember and difficult to tell. But the story must be told with unblinking honesty, for there are many parts of the story that are too great and noble to forget.

Contact between Europeans and Indians was not all bad. In the Appalachian region that I call home, an entirely new culture grew out of that contact. The Celts—Scots, Irish, Welsh, and others—often got on very well with America’s First Nations.

There were lots of reasons for that. Both cultures played music that was wild, haunting, wistful, and beautiful. They were both clannish people who often valued family ties above all else. They were both warrior cultures. They both understood life as a circle instead of a straight line. They both had been marginalized by the Brits.

Visit any powwow today and you will see some dancers sporting bright red hair. Their tribal membership cards and ruddy complexions bear witness to the mingling of Celtic and Native bloodlines.

Perhaps that is why the Choctaw people cared so deeply about the Irish who were starving during the great potato famine.

From 1831 to 1833 the Choctaw were forced from their homelands in the Deep South to a reservation in Oklahoma. Like their neighbors the Cherokee, this was a time of terrible suffering and loss.

It was impossible to recreate their traditional ways of life in Oklahoma, and difficult to create any sort of prosperity. Nevertheless, the Choctaw people were deeply moved by the stories of starvation and mass migration that came from Ireland in the 1840s. It was a journey that was all too familiar to them.

In 1847 they managed to scrape together $147 to buy food for Irish people. In today’s money, that would be around $5,000. Now that might not have been enough to stop the famine, but for a people struggling to survive it was a princely gift.

It was a gift the Irish never forgot.

The sculpture shown above is called “Kindred Spirits.” It would be a princely monument at most any tribal center in America, but it stands in Middleton, Ireland; a small town of 12,000 not far from Ireland’s southern coast in County Cork. The people of County Cork recently spent over $100,000 to erect the monument. It is a testimony that such an act of compassion touches lives for generations to come.

“I was hungry, and you fed me.”

When you are hungry, no act of compassion is small. When you are struggling to survive, no act of friendship is wasted. When you show love, the land remembers.

What act of kindness will you commit today?

O Creator, you have blessed us so greatly. Ours is the richest land the world has ever known. Fill our hearts with compassion for those who need a friend. And quicken our memories of those who helped us when we could not help ourselves.