Phoenix symbolizes a birth from the ashes of destruction. Fitting then, or perhaps prophetic, that the first newspaper published in America by Native Americans and the first to be published in a Native American tongue was named The Cherokee Phoenix. The first issue was released on February 21, 1828 in New Echota, the then capital of the Cherokee Nation in Georgia. A year later, focus for the paper shifted from the Cherokee Tribe to national matters that affected all Indians. The paper was renamed The Cherokee Phoenix and Indian Advocate and often published articles that covered the growing Congressional debates and the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
It ceased publication in 1834, unable to survive the Trail of Tears.
However, like a true phoenix, The Cherokee Phoenix rose from the ashes of its past in the 20th century, and is actively participating in the technological age with a website and iPhone availability.
So, the mythic phoenix might not be wholly Cherokee, but I felt I could exercise a little mythic license. The idea comes from the tales of Raven, how Raven is the animal spirit known for trickery and for teaching life lessons.
I offer the following in response: A Raven in the Fire
“Stillwater, you pulled me from the council fire for a raven?” Cornblossom glared at her little brother. His timing could not have been worse. Redhatchet was handed the Talking Stick, and his words were always important.
Her brother’s jagged smile revealed another missing tooth. “Not a raven, a firebird.”
Trepidation drove the council from her mind as she inspected the trapped bird again. Pitch black feathers curled against the evening breeze. There was something fluid about its feathers, as if the down was made of blood. It let out a soft, crackling cry as it caught her look. “Let the bird go,” she demanded.
Stillwater’s pout waterlogged his whole body. “No, I’m going to show Father once the council meeting is over.”
“Raven is a trickster. He’s not going to like you trapping him like this. He’ll curse you.” The bird left her disquiet, as it preened calmly in its trap. She tasted sulfur in the air. Was it a firebird?
“It’s not Raven.”
“Think about this. If it truly is a firebird, catching it is wrong and our ancestors will forsake us. If it’s Raven, trying to trick us, he’s only going to be a raven when Father sees it, and you will be humiliated before the entire clan.”
Intense, the bird’s gaze pressured her. She was imagining things now. Ash couldn’t possibly drip from the creature. It couldn’t possibly glow under its feathers like the embers of the council fire.
Her brother tried a different tactic, “Please? I’ll let it go after Father sees it, deal?”
“If you won’t release him, I will.” Cornblossom folded her arms and attempted her mother’s disapproving scowl. “One.”
Stillwater didn’t move.
“Two.” She tapped her fingers against her arm. “Three.”
She reached down to pull the pin to the wooden structure, the air singeing her fingertips. She withdrew abruptly and sucked at the burns. “Ow!”
His jagged smile was back and Stillwater bounced about excitedly. “See, I told you I caught a firebird.”
“Let it go!”
The bird roared its crackling cry and Cornblossom saw the wood of the trap begin to smoke. “No, it’s escaping!” Stillwater shrieked, tugging at her dress. “You gotta help me!”
“It doesn’t want to be trapped, Stillwater,” she whispered, “It has a job to do. You have to let it go.”
Flames erupted, consuming the cage entirely. The bird broke free and drifted noiselessly towards the stars, invisible in the night except for the faint red afterglow of its feathers. Stillwater stormed away, defeated. Cornblossom never told him, but left behind in the ashen tinder was a small, unremarkable black feather. She gave it to their father, a medicine-man, for safekeeping. Just in case.