TAHLEQUAH – On Feb. 21, 1828, the first issue of the Cherokee Phoenix was published in New Echota, Georgia. It was the first Native American newspaper in the country and was printed in both English and Cherokee utilizing Sequoyah’s syllabary.
Editor Elias Boudinot gave the paper the name Cherokee Phoenix after the phoenix bird of Egyptian mythology that consumes itself in fire every 500 years and is reborn from the ashes. Boudinot had learned about the phoenix during his education in Cornwall, Connecticut. Over time, the name has proven to be fitting as the Cherokee Phoenix has been reborn numerous times.
Boudinot raised money to start the paper with help from his brother, Stand Watie; cousin, John Ridge; and Elijah Hicks, who were all tribal leaders at that time. As popularity of the Phoenix increased among Cherokee people, Boudinot noticed other tribes were facing similar issues, so he requested a name change to the Cherokee Phoenix and Indian Advocate in 1829.
On May 28, 1830, Congress approved the Indian Removal act and began negotiations with southeastern tribes for their removal from their ancestral homelands to new territory west of the Mississippi River. Boudinot, along with Principal Chief John Ross, used the Cherokee Phoenix and Indian Advocate to write against the Indian Removal Act, but as pressure for removal increased, Boudinot began to advocate for removal instead.
In 1832, Boudinot’s opposing view caused him and Ross to split, and Boudinot resigned as editor of the newspaper. Hicks, Ross’s brother-in-law, was appointed as editor in August 1832, but the printing of the paper ceased on May 31, 1834, as the Cherokee government ran out of money for the paper.
After removal, the National Council met for its regular session in 1843, when Ross made a proposal for funding a newspaper. Cherokee legislators approved an act that would establish 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.”
The first issue of the Cherokee Advocate was printed in the Supreme Court building on Sept. 26, 1844, in both English and Cherokee. In 1853, a lack of funds caused the production of the Cherokee Advocate to cease, but it returned in 1870. In February 1875, a fire destroyed the printing office and equipment, which caused the paper to shut down again. The newspaper came back the following year and finally ceased operations in March of 1906 as the United States government took steps to suppress Cherokee Nation’s government and impose Oklahoma statehood on Cherokee and other tribal lands in 1907.
For 46 years Cherokee journalism lay quiet until Watie Petit, serving as editor, printed the New Cherokee Advocate newsletter in 1950, but printing was halted only a few months later. After the Cherokee government was reconstituted in 1975, the Cherokee Advocate returned as a monthly paper from January 1977 to May 1981, when lack of funding caused the paper to be printed irregularly. In 1983, printing of the paper was again ceased until July, when the Tribal Council voted that the monthly publication would resume by subscriptions and the next issue was printed in October.
The paper continued as the Cherokee Advocate until October 2000, when the name was changed back to the Cherokee Phoenix. Today the Cherokee Phoenix reports on everything from Cherokee government, current events, Cherokee culture, people and history as it celebrates its 193rd anniversary.