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TALE OF THE CHEROKEE PHOENIX

THE CHEROKEE PHOENIX was the first Native American newspaper printed in its own language. Its story begins with the Cherokee polymath Sequoyah in 1821 and, with a lamentable hiatus, continues to this day. Here are tidbits gleaned from Internet sleuthing.

Sequoyah’s Syllabary. In 1821, a Native American silversmith named Sequoyah introduced a syllabary of the Cherokee language. Its 86 written characters represented syllables of this hitherto only spoken language.

Sequoyah, given the English name George Gist or George Guess, c. 1770–1843, Cherokee polymath. This lithograph is from a portrait by Charles Bird King, 1828.

Initially, Sequoyah taught the syllabary to his six-year-old daughter Ayokeh, because adults were unwilling to learn this “talking on paper.” In time, Ayokeh’s skills were exemplary and the Cherokee people’s literacy exceed those of surrounding European-American settlers.

Sequoyah’s Syllabary. The first four syllables are “e,” “a,” “la, ta” and “tsi.

The Cherokee Phoenix. In the mid-1820s, the state of Georgia and federal authorities were pressuring to move the Cherokees from their native land. Wikipedia notes that in response, “The General Council of the Cherokee Nation established a newspaper, in collaboration with Samuel Worcester, a missionary, who cast the type for the Cherokee syllabary. The Council selected Elias Boudinot [born as Cherokee Galagina Oowaite] as its first editor.” Sequoyah provided the syllabary.

The Cherokee Phoenix was named for the mythical bird rising from its own ashes. The first edition was dated February 21, 1828. The newspaper had four pages, with bilingual articles in Cherokee and English. Worcester wrote a piece praising Sequoyah’s syllabary. Boudinot wrote an editorial on settlers wanting Cherokee land.

An example of the Cherokee Phoenix, from May 21, 1828.

The newspaper attracted attention and gained readers throughout the U.S. and even in Europe. Reflecting this, Boudinot renamed it the Cherokee Phoenix and Indian Advocate in 1829 and, gradually, articles in English predominated.

Problems Arise. What’s more, a disagreement evolved within the Cherokee Nation: Some, including Boudinot, sensed that their removal from native land was inevitable; others held out. Boudinot was forbidden to share his views in the newspaper and, protesting this, he resigned in the spring of 1832.

Wikipedia notes, “When the federal government failed to pay the annuity to the Cherokee in 1834, the paper ceased publication. In August 1835 a contingent of the Georgia Guard took the printing press to prevent any further publication…. The state militia was organized to police the Cherokee territory which the state had claimed.”

The Trail of Tears. The Indian Removal Act was promoted by President Andrew Jackson, who signed it into law on May 28, 1830. This led to the Trail of Tears, forced relocation of approximately 60,000 Native Americans from the southeastern U.S. to what was designated Indian Territory (now largely Oklahoma).

This political action was exacerbated by the 1828 discovery of gold near Dahlonega, Georgia. Of the 16,543 dispossessed Cherokees making the trek, it’s estimated that 2000 to 8000 died along the way.

Cherokee Phoenix Followup. The Cherokee Phoenix was published intermittently in Indian Territory. Wikipedia notes, “Since the late 20th century, it has been revived and is now published by the Cherokee Nation as a monthly broadsheet in Tahlequah, Oklahoma…. It is published on the Internet and is available on the iPhone, and there is a print version.”

To keep up with Cherokee happenings, including the 192nd anniversary of the Cherokee Phoenix, check out its website. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020

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