A copy of the Cherokee Phoenix from 1829.

Native History: Inaugural Edition of ‘Cherokee Phoenix’ Published

Alysa Landry
2/21/14

This Date in Native History: On February 21, 1828, the Cherokee Nation published the inaugural edition of its bilingual newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, which helped preserve the culture, history and language of what is now one of the largest tribes.

The Phoenix was the first bilingual newspaper printed in North America, said Kenneth Tankersley, an anthropology professor at the University of Cincinnati. It also was the first paper published by American Indians and the first printed in a Native language.

The weekly newspaper, published shortly after the tribe acquired a printing press and had it shipped to the tribal capital of New Echota, Georgia, introduced a written Cherokee language that was quite simple to learn, Tankersley said. Following the publication, the literacy rate of the Cherokee quickly exceeded that of Europeans and Euro-Americans.

“The significance of acquiring the first printing press and the publication of the Cherokee Phoenix in 1828 can best be viewed in terms of cultural survival,” said Tankersley, who is Cherokee and Piqua Shawnee. “Language is crucial to the survival of cumulative tribal knowledge, tribal history and tribal wisdom.”

The Phoenix was printed as Native children across the country were being forced into boarding schools and stripped of their languages and cultures. More than half of all Native languages were lost. Two years before the paper printed, Elias Boudinot, the first editor, shared a vision of what the Phoenix would be.

“There must exist a vehicle of Indian intelligence altogether different from those which have heretofore been employed,” Boudinot said in 1826.

Elias Boudinot, Cherokee, the newspaper’s first editor. (Wikimedia Commons)

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