Posted on February 21, 2019
Today is the anniversary of the first issue of the Cherokee Phoenix - the first newspaper published by Native Americans in the U.S. and also the first published in a Native American language.
It was published on this date in 1828 in New Echota (which is located in present-day Georgia). Although the newspaper only published for six years, it was revived in the late 1900s and continues to this day!
I immediately wondered about the choice of the phoenix for the newspaper's name. That mythological bird is famous for, after a long life, dying in a burst of flames and then rising up again from its own ashes. In other words, the phoenix is a symbol for rebirth, resurrection, and even perseverance.
Apparently, editor Elias Boudinot (aka Gallegina Uwati, or ᎦᎴᎩᎾ ᎤᏩᏘ], a mixed-race Cherokee leader) chose to use the phoenix in the newspaper's name as a symbol of renewal for the Cherokee.
Not only did the newspaper feature articles in both English and in Cherokee, it used the Cherokee syllabary developed in 1821 by Sequoyah.
I found it interesting that those who could read only Cherokee received the newspaper for free; those who could read English paid from $2.50/year to $3.50/year, depending on if they paid in advance or not.
At the time that the newspaper began publication, the U.S. government was edging toward removing the Cherokee from their lands and relocating them farther west. This was gaining a lot of notice, and the newspaper arranged a publicity tour to try to gain sympathizers who were not themselves Cherokee. Sure enough, people subscribed from all over the United States and even Europe; in order to reach them, Boudinot started publishing mostly in English.
The Cherokee people were divided in their opinions about whether or not to sign a treaty with the U.S. They were divided in their opinion on the wisdom of acculturating to (that is, learning the language and ways of) European-heritage Americans. They were divided in what the goal of the Cherokee Phoenix was and should be.
|Cherokee people (and other Native peoples) had to |
work hard to keep alive their traditions and language.
Out of all that disagreement, Boudinot ended up quitting his position, and newspaper was then edited by a Cherokee with opposite political views. However, soon after that, the federal government stopped paying the Cherokee what they were due (according to agreements), and the newspaper stopped publishing altogether; the state government piled on by sending militiamen to seize the printing press.
The Cherokee Phoenix only published off-and-on (I gather mostly "off") after the Cherokees were forcibly relocated to "Indian Territory" in Oklahoma. (This is one part of the horrific Trail of Tears.)
But since the late 1900s, the Cherokee Phoenix has been published monthly by the Cherokee Nation. It available on the internet, on iPhone, and in print.
I found it interesting that the Cherokee syllabary type was found in the old New Echota print shop; in 2013 two artists used it in a project. It was the first time it had been used in 178 years!