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Cherokee contest puts Phoenix legend in modern context

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. ? Looking to the past for strength during today's troubled times is the idea behind a writing contest being sponsored by the Cherokee Nation.

Sixth-, seventh- and eight-graders are invited to write a poem or short story on "How Does the Story of the Phoenix Bird Apply Today?"

During the Indian removal the Cherokee people took the story and made it their own. The belief that they too were continually facing the fire in the hardships they faced made the story of the Phoenix seem very real to them and cemented the tie.

It was believed that only one Phoenix bird lived in the world at a time and each was said to live 500 years. As it reached the end of its lifespan, the Phoenix built a huge nest and set itself and the nest on fire. Out of the ashes a new Phoenix was born.

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The idea behind a new, stronger Phoenix rising from the ashes inspired the title for the first Native American newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix which exists today.

When the first issue was printed, the publishers explained the name taken from the mythical bird was a sign of hope and happier times ahead for the Cherokee people.

"We now commit our feeble efforts to the good will and indulgence of the public, and hoping for that happy period, when all Indian tribes of America shall rise, Phoenix-like, from the ashes, and when the terms 'Indian depredation,' 'war whoops,' 'scalping knife' and the like shall become obsolete, and forever be buried deep under ground," they wrote.

Sponsors say they are confident participants will find ways to fit the story of the Phoenix into a modern context and add a fresh slant to a timeless tale. Entrants must have a CDIB card and live within the 14-county jurisdictional area of the Cherokee Nation.

Aspiring writers will compete for a first-place prize of $125, second prize of $50 and third prize $25. Entries, to received no later than Dec. 20, should be sent to: Cherokee Nation Cultural Resource Center, PO Box 948 Tahlequah, OK 74465. For more information call Lisa Stopp (918) 458-6170.