The Cherokee Phoenix
) was the first newspaper written by and for American Indians as well as was the first to be written in an Indian language (it was in both Cherokee
and English). Its original run was from February 28, 1828 through May 31, 1834.
Once Sequoya has established a written version of the Cherokee language and a sufficient number of people had learned it (it caught on remarkably quickly throughout the Cherokee Nation), it became possible for documents, letters, and other texts to be written and desiminated. In 1826, the council at New Echota (the Cherokee capital that was established in 1825) approved the construction of a printing office and, the following year, the purchase of a printing press.
Elias Boudinot (Gallegina "Buck" Watie, sometimes Oowatie) was chosen to be editor of the paper. He had formal education and was able to read and write well in both English and Cherokee. His gift for words was evinced by the way he was able to raise a lot of the startup money for the project through public speaking tours (something he sometimes continued doing to maintain adequate funds for the paper).
The paper enabled communication throughout the Nation and allowed even outsiders to learn about the Cherokee and their lives, culture, politics, and problems. It let them get out news about new laws and meeting notices, and in a sense, was able to unify the tribe through a common source of information. Boudinot's hope for what the paper would accomplish in his own words:
As the great object of The Phoenix will be the benefit of the Cherokees, the following subjects will occupy its columns.
1. The laws and public documents of the Nation.
2. 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.
3. The principal interesting news of the day.
4. Miscellaneous articles, calculated to promote Literature, Civilization, and Religion among the Cherokees.
The first issue of the new weekly paper consisted of four large pages with five columns on each. It included an editorial by Boundinot, part of the new Cherokee constitution
, an essay on Sequoyah's syllabary
(by the Reverend
Samuel Worchester, a non-Indian who also served as New Echota's postmaster), and the Lord's Prayer
in both English and Cherokee.
Because issues facing the Cherokee also concerned other tribes, Boudinot had the name changed to the Cherokee Phoenix and Indian Advocate in 1829.
He used the paper to speak out about the Indian Removal Act of 1830, white settlers moving onto Cherokee land and evicting the Indians, and other injustices (not being allowed to testify against a white person in a trial, for example). Later he began to see removal as the better choice, though only as a lesser of two evils (he foresaw that eventually they would be either forcibly removed or destroyed). Principal Chief John Ross was adamantly against removal and relocation and refused to allow Boudinot to print his views on the subject or news pertaining to it in a positive light. In 1832, over this, Boudinot resigned as editor of the paper and Ross' brother-in-law (who felt as Ross did on the the subject) Elijah Hicks was given the position.
In 1834, the state of Georgia shut the paper down. The following year the Treaty of New Echota was signed setting the removal process in motion. In 1838, the army was sent into Indian territory and New Echota and began removing the Cherokee from the state.
Sources: John Ehle's Trail of Tears: the Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation (1988) and various websites.