Cherokee Phoenix turns 192 in 2020
A display in the Cherokee Supreme Court Building in Tahlequah profiles the Cherokee Phoenix and Cherokee Advocate newspapers. The Phoenix’s first editor, Elias Boudinot, left, and the Advocate’s first editor, William Potter Ross, are shown in the displays. The Phoenix turned 192 years old on Feb. 21. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
The Cherokee Phoenix’s first editor, Elias Boudinot, was part of a prominent Cherokee family, the brother of Stand Watie, nephew of Major Ridge and cousin of John Ridge. Boudinot, his brother Stand, John Ridge and Elijah Hicks, raised money to start the newspaper. Boudinot also went on a fundraising tour in Philadelphia and New York to find financing for it. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Phoenix was the first Native American newspaper and the first bilingual publication in North America. And on Feb. 21, it celebrates its 192nd birthday.
The first issue of the newspaper was printed on Feb. 21, 1828, in New Echota, Cherokee Nation (now Georgia), and edited by Elias Boudinot. It was printed in English and Cherokee, using the Cherokee syllabary created by Sequoyah.
Rev. Samuel Worcester and the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions helped build the printing office, cast type in the Cherokee syllabary and procure the printer and other equipment. Also, Boudinot, his brother Stand Watie, John Ridge and Elijah Hicks, all leaders in the tribe at that time, raised money to start the newspaper.
In 1829, the newspaper name was amended to include the Indian Advocate at the request of Boudinot. The Cherokee National Council approved of the name change and both the masthead and content were changed to reflect the paper’s broader mission.
In the 1830s Boudinot and Principal Chief John Ross used the Cherokee Phoenix to editorialize against the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the growing encroachment and harassment of settlers in Georgia.
The newspaper also contained news items, features, accounts about Cherokees living in Arkansas and other area tribes and social and religious activities. The two U.S. Supreme Court decisions (Cherokee Nation v. Georgia and Worcester v. Georgia), which affected Cherokee rights, were also written about extensively.
As pressure for the Cherokee to leave Georgia increased, Boudinot changed his stance and began to advocate for the removal of Cherokee to the west. At first Chief Ross supported Boudinot’s opposing view but by 1832 the two leaders’ differences caused them to split and Boudinot resigned.
Elijah Hicks, a brother-in-law of Ross, was appointed editor in August 1832, but the Phoenix was silenced in May 1834 when the Cherokee government ran out of money for the paper. Attempts were made to revive the paper. When word leaked that Chief Ross intended to move the printing press from New Echota to nearby Red Clay, Tenn., the Georgia Guard, who were already brutally oppressing the Cherokee people, moved in and destroyed the press and burned the Cherokee Phoenix office with the help of Stand Watie who was a member of the Treaty Party. The party advocated selling what remained of Cherokee land and moving west.
Four years later most of the Cherokees who remained on their lands in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina were rounded up and forcibly marched or sent by boat to Indian Territory.
A Cherokee Nation newspaper was again published in September 1844 in the form of the Cherokee Advocate. The paper was published in Tahlequah and edited by Cherokee citizen William Potter Ross, a graduate of Princeton University.
The Cherokee Advocate returned after the Cherokee government was officially reformed in 1975. The newspaper continued under that name until October 2000 when the paper began using the name Cherokee Phoenix and Indian Advocate again. Also, that same year, the Tribal Council passed the Cherokee Independent Press Act of 2000, which ensures the coverage of tribal government and news of the Cherokee Nation is free from political control and undue influence.
In January 2007, the newspaper began using the original Cherokee Phoenix name, launched a website and began publishing in a broadsheet format. Today, the newspaper reports on the tribe’s government, current events and Cherokee culture, people and history.