Cherokee Phoenix marks 190th anniversary
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 190 years old on Feb. 21. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Plaques at the New Echota State Historic Site in Calhoun, Georgia, honor the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper, the first bilingual newspaper in North America, printed in Cherokee, using Sequoyah’s syllabary, and in English. The newspaper was first published 190 years ago on Feb. 21, 1828, in New Echota. 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
The Cherokee Advocate replaced the Cherokee Phoenix following the removal of Cherokee people to Indian Territory. On Sept. 26, 1844, the first issue of the Cherokee Advocate was printed, in Cherokee and English, in the Supreme Court building in Tahlequah under the guidance of William Potter Ross, a Princeton University graduate. The newspaper was “to inform and encourage the Cherokees in agriculture, education and religion and to enlighten the world with correct Indian news.” The issue shown was published in March 1997. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Today’s Cherokee Phoenix is one of only a handful of tribal newspapers in the United States that is a free press newspaper, which was made possible by the Cherokee Independent Press Act of 2000. The act protects the newspaper from undue influence from the government. Along with a monthly newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix has a website and uses the social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and sends a daily email newsletter. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – This year marks the 190th anniversary of when the Cherokee Phoenix was first published on Feb. 21, 1828, in New Echota, Georgia, a former Cherokee Nation capital.
It was the first bilingual newspaper in North America, printed in Cherokee, using Sequoyah’s syllabary, and English.
Since 1828, the Phoenix has only been printed a total of 25 years – from 1828 to 1834 in the old CN and from October 2000 to present day. The Cherokee Advocate newspaper followed the Phoenix and was printed from September 1844 until March 1906 and then from January 1977 until September 2000.
“As a tribal citizen I’m thankful that the Cherokee Nation has always been a leader when it comes to documenting and telling its own story. There isn’t anything more important than having Native voices to represent our communities and people and to tell the stories about tribal issues, said CN citizen Jennifer Bell, editor of the Hownikan, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s newspaper. “As a Cherokee, I’m proud to have the Cherokee Phoenix as an example of how this has been done for 190 years.”
Its creation in 1825 by the Cherokee National Council was part of an assimilation process by Cherokee leadership. Officials thought if they lived like their white neighbors – building schools, opening businesses and government offices and having a newspaper – that perhaps Georgians would accept them and let them stay on their lands.
The newspaper’s first editor, Elias Boudinot, learned about the Phoenix bird of Egyptian mythology, which consumes itself in fire every 500 years and is reborn from the ashes, at school in Cornwall, Connecticut. Boudinot was part of a prominent Cherokee family, the brother of Stand Watie, nephew of Major Ridge and cousin of John Ridge. Boudinot, the Ridges, Principal Chief John Ross, Charles R. Hicks, and his son, Elijah Hicks, formed the CN’s ruling elite that believed acculturation into white society was critical to Cherokee survival.
Boudinot, Stand Watie, John Ridge and Elijah Hicks, raised money to start the newspaper, and Boudinot went on a fundraising tour in Philadelphia and New York to find financing for it. He also used the tour to inform people of the Cherokee’s progress and acculturation. Along with gaining support from Americans, he raised enough money to purchase a printing press, which was set up in the tribe’s new capital in New Echota.
Boudinot and Chief Ross used the Phoenix to write against the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the growing encroachment and harassment of Georgia settlers. It also contained news, features, accounts about Cherokees living in Arkansas and other area tribes, as well as social and religious activities. 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 mind and began advocating for the Cherokee’s removal west. At first Chief Ross did not suppress Boudinot’s opposing view, but in early 1832 the two’s differences caused Boudinot to resign as editor.
Elijah Hicks, a brother-in-law of Chief Ross, was appointed editor in August 1832, but the Phoenix was silenced on May 31, 1834, when the government ran out of money for it.
After the Cherokee’s removal to Indian Territory, Cherokee leaders reorganized the government after three major factions reunited in 1839. It was Chief Ross who envisioned reviving a Cherokee newspaper. In October 1843, when the Cherokee National Council met for its regular session, he made the proposal for funding a newspaper. Legislators approved the act establishing the Advocate on Oct. 25, 1843, “to inform and encourage the Cherokees in agriculture, education and religion and to enlighten the world with correct Indian news.”
On Sept. 26, 1844, the Advocate’s first issue was printed, in Cherokee and English, in the Supreme Court building (still located south of the Cherokee Capitol Building in Tahlequah) under the guidance of William Potter Ross, a Princeton graduate.
Production of the Advocate stopped and started between 1853 and 1906. The paper ceased printing in March 1906 when the CN was dissolved by the U.S. government in preparation for Oklahoma statehood.
Today’s Phoenix is one of only a handful of tribal newspapers in the United States that is a free press newspaper, which was made possible by the Cherokee Independent Press Act of 2000. The act protects the newspaper from undue influence from the tribe’s government.
Along with a monthly newspaper, the Phoenix has a website and uses social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as well as a daily email newsletter.
“Aside from its historical importance as being the first Native American newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix played a crucial role in distributing information to Cherokee citizens during troublesome times while we were in the east and facing removal,” CN History and Preservation Officer Catherine Foreman Gray said. “Today, the Phoenix continues to operate as a free press that informs and educates Cherokee citizens on local, state and national issues that impact our tribe and Indian Country.”