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  • The Cherokee PhoenixResistance and Accommodation
  • Mikhelle Lynn Ross-Mulkey (bio)

The Cherokee Phoenix was the first known American Indian newspaper and the first bilingual newspaper to use an American Indian language. The Cherokee Nation’s own press was used to publish the Phoenix from 1828 to 1834. This time period coincides with increasing pressure for Indian removal and the subsequent Georgia land lottery, Worcester v. Georgia, the Indian Removal Bill of 1830, and the discovery of gold in parts of the Cherokee Nation.1 However, with all of this going on, the Phoenix and its supporters, along with strong leadership and the use of federal courts, held off Cherokee removal for another eight years after the act was originally passed. These different acts of resistant and struggle are highlighted in the Cherokee Phoenix as well as through extant personal letters written by Cherokee people.2 The story of the Cherokee Phoenix, although complicated and layered, can offer a reflection of the Cherokee response to removal.

The Phoenix was a literary tool meant to challenge the behaviors of some white Americans that clearly threatened Cherokee survival. This article adds to the ongoing Cherokee scholarship by using the Chickamauga consciousness (red) and Beloved Path (white) methodology first introduced by Daniel Heath Justice to reflect on Cherokee intellectual expression.3 During the eighteenth century the red/war and white/peace dichotomy expressed the political structure of Cherokee towns. This dichotomy sought a balance in governmental configuration, but it also presented a deeper cosmological understanding of the world. This fundamental knowledge was adopted by Justice into a literary methodology with which to read Cherokee literature.4 The Beloved Path (white) [End Page 123] literature reflects accommodation and cooperation while the Chickamauga consciousness (red) reflects physical or rhetorical defiance. As Justice explains, “Neither exists independently; there is a necessary tension that brings the war and peace perspectives together into constant movement—again, the idea of nationhood as a dynamic concept.”5 Further, it is the balance between the two roads that contributes to Cherokee persistence. For example, through the Cherokee Phoenix Cherokees were choosing to define themselves as literate, adding to negotiations within Cherokee-white relations, which were and still are highly complex. Linguistic anthropologist Margret Bender notes three main areas of change—technological, political, and spiritual—and the response of prochange or antichange moved along a continuum. For example, she identifies Phoenix editor Elias Boudinot as progressive (technological), nationalist (political), and Christian (spiritual).6 These continuums coincide with Justice’s model of Beloved Path and Chickamauga consciousness because they attempt to explain a multifaceted relationship in which individuals seek a balance. Furthermore, where one lies on these continuums might influence the “white” (accommodate) or “red” (resist) approach that an individual will take. The strength in this methodological tool is the ability to analyze themes in the literature that highlight the lively interaction between Cherokee literature and history. It also gives us a new vocabulary with which to analyze the Cherokee Phoenix.

The very image of the phoenix in Cherokee history and literature is deeply tied to the sacred image of fire. Justice points out that “the Phoenix, a spirit-bird of living and continually renewing flame, has been such an enduring symbol of Cherokee nationhood since the early nineteenth century. The spirit of the fire is also the spirit of the nation.”7 In the very first issue of the Cherokee Phoenix, editor Elias Boudinot made use of this enduring imagery: “We would now commit our feeble efforts to the good will and indulgence of the public, praying that God will attend them with his blessing, and hoping for that happy period, when all the Indian tribes of America shall arise, Phoenix like, from their ashes.”8 Boudinot’s symbolic boldness (Chickamauga consciousness) was common in the beginning of his editorial career but was later replaced by an accommodating approach (Beloved Path). A common reading of Boudinot’s actions has been characterized as treachery; however, the Chickamauga consciousness and Beloved Path approach sheds new light on this historical martyr (or villain). Justice’s methodology [End Page 124] emphasizes the balance and complementarity within Boudinot’s writings. The “distinction [is] in degree, not kind...


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pp. 123-148
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