American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Cherokee Phoenix and Indian Advocate

Title: Cherokee newspaper, Cherokee Phoenix, 1828
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By the 1820s, the Cherokees were an immensely literate people, possessing a written constitution that emulated that of the United States, a written language (developed by Sequoyah), and a bilingual newspaper, The Cherokee Phoenix and Indian Advocate. The Cherokee Phoenix, the first Native American newspaper, is still published today. During the years before the Trail of Tears (beginning in 1838), the newspaper acted as an official organ of the Cherokees' government and as a key institution in the battle against removal.

Sequoyah's written Cherokee language was introduced in 1821, after twelve years of experimentation. He developed the language with an eye to its social and political uses, making it easy to learn (many Cherokee acquired it in two weeks) and to use in the preparation of documents, including newspapers.

In 1828, the Cherokee Tribal Council initiated a weekly newspaper, printing bilingual editions in Cherokee and English.

The missionary Samuel Worcester, whose name became affixed to what is perhaps the best-known case in American Indian law (Worcester v. Georgia, 1832), was a community activist among the Cherokees. Worcester collaborated with Stephen Foreman on a translation of The Bible into Cherokee, and, with aid from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, he worked to procure type fonts and a press for the Cherokee Phoenix. Worcester played a role in having type cast in Sequoyah's symbols, hiring a printer, and choosing Elias Boudinot as the newspaper's first editor.

When The Cherokee Phoenix began publishing at New Echota on February 21, 1828, Worcester also was a major editorial force. The newspaper quickly acquired an international circulation but also experienced financial problems due, in part, to Boudinot's salary of $300 a year, a relatively high wage at the time. A number of prominent Cherokees, including John Ross, Stand Watie, and John Ridge, spoke on behalf of the newspaper to raise money for what they regarded as an important voice in crucial times.

By 1832, however, Boudinot, Ridge, and others split with Ross as they began to support removal. Ross at first asked them to curtail their editorials in favor of removal. When they refused, he forced Boudinot's resignation. Charles Hicks, Ross's brother-in-law, then became editor. Hicks was strongly opposed to removal, but he restricted his views to editorials. The newspaper continued to publish views on both sides of the issue, including letters from Boudinot.

The Cherokee Phoenix continued to publish as pressure for removal grew. It shared news reports with a hundred other newspapers, but shortages of ink and the illnesses of printers and editors caused publication to become erratic. Georgia officials made obvious their desire to close the paper.

Financial problems persisted; on May 31, 1834, the paper ceased publication when the Cherokee Nation ran out of money as the federal government reneged on treaty obligations. When money again became available, the newspaper's staff planned a move to Red Clay, Tennessee, out of concern that the Georgia Guard would prevent its publication at New Echota. However, "Hours before the move, Elias Boudinot's brother, Stand Watie, joined the Guard in a raid on the offices of the Phoenix. They dumped the soft lead type on the ground and stamped it into the red Georgia clay with their feet, effectively silencing the voice of the Cherokee Nation. Watie and the Guard then removed the press and set fire to the building" (Worthy, n.d.).

The newspaper was revived after the Cherokees' forced march to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. The original site of the newspaper's office in New Echota became a tourist attraction when a state park opened in the area in 1962. Today, the newspaper may be read in Cherokee and English on the Internet.

Bruce E. Johansen


Further Reading
Cherokee Phoenix. Newspaper of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Available at: http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/. Accessed April 9, 2006.; Anderson, William L., ed. 1991. Cherokee Removal: Before and After. Athens: University of Georgia Press; McLoughlin, William G. 1993. After the Trail of Tears: The Cherokees' Struggle for Sovereignty, 1839–1880. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.; Worthy, Larry. No date. "About North Carolina." Cherokee Phoenix (and Indian Advocate). Available at: http://ngeorgia.com/history/phoenix.html. Accessed April 9, 2006.
 

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