Boudinot learned of Cherokee Phoenix legend as student
A book of legendary creatures by FJ Bertuch includes a depiction of the mythical phoenix. COURTESY
The initial phoenix artwork used by the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper in 1828. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH – The history of the Cherokee journalism is anchored from its beginning to now by the newspaper that started Native American journalism on Feb. 21, 1828, in New Echota, Georgia.
On that day, the first edition of the Cherokee Phoenix was printed at what was then the capital of the Cherokee Nation, under the leadership of its editor, Elias Boudinot. It was printed in English and Cherokee.
Boudinot learned about the mythological Egyptian phoenix bird, which consumes itself in fire every 500 years and is reborn from the ashes, while attending school in Cornwall, Connecticut. In Ancient Greek folklore, a phoenix is an ancient bird that is associated with the sun. The bird obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor. Some legends say it dies in a show of flames and combustion, others say that it simply dies and decomposes before being born again.
Another account of how the Cherokee Phoenix got its name comes from Boudinot’s description of what he envisioned the newspaper would be. Written in October 1827, he revealed the newspaper would be called the Cherokee Phoenix from a reference he had used in his lectures on his trip to the northeastern United States to raise funds for the newspaper.
In his description, he asked for the support of friends “who rejoiced” in seeing the Cherokee seek “to rise from their ashes like the fabled Phoenix.” Boudinot promised to direct “undeviating steps” toward the goal of benefitting the Cherokees. The subjects to be covered by the newspaper would be: the laws and public documents of the Nation; account of the manners and customs of the Cherokees, and their progress in education, religion, and the arts of civilized life; with such notices of other Indian tribes as our limited means of information will allow; the “principal interesting news of the day;” and miscellaneous articles, “calculated to promote literature, civilization and religion among the Cherokees.”
The paper’s creation in 1825 by the Cherokee National Council was part of a thought-out process of assimilation. Cherokee leaders thought if they began to live like their white neighbors – planting crops, building schools, opening businesses, government offices, building modern homes and having a newspaper – that perhaps Georgians would accept them and let them stay on their lands in northern Georgia. In some ways, the Cherokee people outdid their white neighbors, which caused the Georgians to resent them even more.
On May 31, 1834, the Cherokee Phoenix ceased printing because the Cherokee government ran out of funding for it and because of harassment from Georgians. Four years later, in the spring of 1838, most of the approximately 14,000 Cherokees who remained on their lands in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and North Carolina were rounded up and forcibly sent to Indian Territory, in what is now Oklahoma. In Indian Territory, Cherokee leaders reorganized the government after three major Cherokee factions reunited in the summer of 1839. Within five years, schools, government buildings and homes were rebuilt, including a Supreme Court building in the capital of Tahlequah.
Principal Chief John Ross envisioned reviving a Cherokee newspaper. In October 1843, when the Cherokee National Council met for its regular session, Ross made the proposal for funding a newspaper. Legislators approved an act that established the Cherokee 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 first issue of the Cherokee Advocate was printed, in Cherokee and English, in the CN Supreme Court building in Tahlequah. Historians speculate Ross chose to use parts of the title the Cherokee Phoenix began using in 1829: “Cherokee Phoenix and Indian Advocate.”
As the territory moved toward statehood in 1907, the Cherokee Advocate ceased printing and didn’t return until the Cherokee government was officially reorganized in 1975. Stories about Cherokee people and culture, activities of the tribal government and news of tribal programs were printed in the monthly paper.
The newspaper continued as the Cherokee Advocate until October 2000 when it began using the name Cherokee Phoenix and Indian Advocate. Once again, the Cherokee Phoenix rose to serve the people and continues today as a print newspaper. It also has a website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages and an email newsletter.
Source: Holland, Cullen Joe; “Cherokee Newspapers, 1828-1906, Tribal Voices of a People in Transition;” Cherokee Heritage Press; 2012