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Native American Journalism

Native American Journalism


Elias Boudinots Vision. The power of the press to rally public support and advance a cause was used by a variety of Americans, not least by Native Americans and the Christian missionaries who sought to educate and convert them. Beginning in 1826 with Henry Rowe Schoolcrafts The Muzzinyegun or Literary Voyager in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, Native American media ranged from tribal and independent newspapers to religious and literary publications, most of which sought to civilize and educate Indian peoples. One of the most famous Native American papers was the Cherokee Phoenix,

founded in 1828 in response to Georgias efforts to take control of tribal lands. The Cherokees, whose numbers included several educated and highly assimilated leaders, used the Cherokee Phoenix to publicize the states actions and build sympathy for their cause in the East. The Cherokee Phoenix was also used as a means to educate the tribe about both Indian and non-Indian issues. In a prospectus for the paper published in 1827, editor Elias Boudinot listed four types of information he wanted to emphasize:

(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 Cherokee Phoenix. The newspapers content bore out this mission. The first issues of the Cherokee Phoenix published the tribal constitution in English and, using Sequoyahs syllabary, in Cherokee. Other editorial departments

included a letters section, news summaries of local, national, and international events, a poetry section, and religious stories. The paper also published educational material, including excerpts from William Hazlitts Life of Napoleon (18281830). The paper ran regular moralistic articles that preached character development, temperance, and the like. However, the paper was always short of funds, and tribal infighting and increasing pressure from white Georgians caused the paper to fail in 1834.

The Cherokee Advocate. When the Cherokees were forced out of the South in 18381839 on the infamous Trail of Tears, Cherokee journalism moved west. The American Board of Foreign Missions, long active in Indian issues, helped the tribe secure a new press, type, and equipment in Boston, and in 1844 the Cherokees established

the Cherokee Advocate in Tahlequah, capital of the Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). Like the Cherokee Phoenix, the Cherokee Advocate was designed to educate and inspire Cherokee readers. Its editors aimed to provide accurate information about the Cherokees and other Indians for its white friends and allies, a way of combating the anti-Indian publicity of the mainstream press. The first editor of the Cherokee Advocate was William Potter Ross, a graduate of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) and nephew of principal chief John Ross. The paper was a four-page weekly, and Ross filled its columns with general Indian news, laws and legal news, agents reports, fiction, inspirational articles, and more. Most news was in English though the paper usually published three columns in Cherokee. The Cherokee Advocate published regularly through 1853, when financial problems caused its suspension until 1870.

Missionary Press. Early-nineteenth-century Christian missionaries recognized that print could be a useful way to spread their message among Indian people. The first such publication was a monthly newspaper established by the Baptists in Shawnee Mission, Kansas, in 1835. Siwinowe Kesibwi (or Shawnee Sun) was also the first periodical published entirely in a native language, using a Shawnee orthography developed by printer and missionary Jotham Meeker. Little is known about the contents of the paper, but apparently it was a four-page publication with articles by missionaries and several

Shawnee contributors. Though the paper ceased publication in 1844, other editors followed in its footsteps. In Lynn, Massachusetts, in 1838 one missionary group founded a paper called The Oregonian, and Indians Advocate. The monthly was published by the Committee of the Oregon Provisional Emigration Society and carried this paternalistic motto: Our Object the Elevation of the Indian RaceOur Means a Christian Settlement in Oregon. The first issue contained a statement that made clear the publishers goals. Every political party and social movement has its organ, the editors noted. This publication, however, would serve a different cause, speaking for an oppressed and afflicted race, fleeing away before the whites, as they fly from the fires of their own prairies. The editors continued, invoking the virtues they hoped to spread among the Oregon Indians: We should cease our cruelty, treat them as men, and give them the blessings of civilization and religion. To achieve this goal the committee advocated living among the Indians, fulfilling the Christian duty to educate them and elevate their moral and religious characters. The dream was never realized, of course, and The Oregonian, and Indians Advocate stopped publication in 1839. Despite such failures, the missionary press continued. By 1860 twentyfive Native American periodicals had appeared, at least briefly, in the United States.


Daniel F. Littlefield Jr. and James W. Parins, American Indian and Alaska Native Newspapers and Periodicals, 18261924 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984).

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