The Cherokee Nation, for the first time, has asked Jeep to change the name of its Grand Cherokee vehicle, a move the automaker, preparing to take the next generation off the line, has so far resisted.
Chief Chief of the Cherokee Nation Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in an interview Wednesday that the name belongs to the Cherokee people and that the use by Jeep without permission is troubling.
“Using Cherokee names and images to sell products doesn’t deepen the country’s understanding of what it means to be Cherokee, and I think that diminishes it somewhat,” said Chef Hoskin. His opposition to Jeep’s use of the tribe’s name was reported by Car and Driver magazine last week.
Stellantis, the automaker that owns Jeep, has defended its use of the name. “Our vehicle names have been carefully chosen and nurtured over the years to honor and celebrate Native Americans for their nobility, prowess and pride,” the company said in a statement Wednesday. “We are, more than ever, engaged in a respectful and open dialogue with the Chief Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Chuck Hoskin Jr.”
Jeep introduced its Cherokee sport utility vehicle in 1974. After the car’s retirement in the early 2000s, Jeep relaunched it in 2014. The Grand Cherokee has since become one of Jeep’s most popular models, with over 200,000 sold last year. Stellantis was born this year from the merger of Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot, which included Jeep in their brand portfolio.
Companies have long used Native American names and images as marketing tools, and for many years the Cherokee Nation has not expressed an opinion on the use of its name by Jeep. But the tribe’s demand comes as US cities, businesses and sports teams – in response to nationwide protests after George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police last year – to remove or reconsider statues, flags, symbols, names and mascots that represent Confederate leaders. or other historical figures, or who use Native American images and names.
In one of the most high-profile cases, under pressure from corporate sponsors, Washington NFL team owner Daniel Snyder agreed in July to drop his name and logo after years of group protests Native Americans and others who called her racist.
Suzan Shown Harjo, an academic who has been at the center of efforts to persuade teams, schools and colleges to ditch Native American names and mascots, said Jeep’s explanation for its use of the Cherokee name – that he honored the tribe – was just an excuse.
“Of course, it’s not an honor,” said Harjo, director of the Morning Star Institute, a group that promotes Native American causes. She said the use of Native American names was especially painful when businesses and sports teams used them without permission.
“This is the assumption that has been made by so many people about our land, water, gold, silver, copper – name a mineral. Now it’s about our images, our names and our cultural icons, ”she said. “When does this flight end?”
Chief Hoskin said he told Jeep at a Zoom meeting in late January that he did not tolerate its use of the name Cherokee. He said the meeting was cordial and he was encouraged that the company had struck up a conversation.
“A generation ago, I don’t think it occurred to them,” he said. “We live in a time when people are thinking a little more about the impact of images and names.”
The Cherokee Nation, primarily in Oklahoma, has over 385,000 members, making it the largest federally recognized Native American tribe.
Neeru Paharia, associate professor of marketing at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, said she understands why Jeep executives are reluctant to drop the name.
“It’s their best-selling car, it has an iconic look and an iconic name,” Dr Paharia said. “If no one is going after them, they probably think it’s a huge asset to us, but it will become a handicap as soon as it picks up momentum and traction.”
Last summer, widespread protests against racism led to the toppling of statues of Confederate leaders and prompted brands such as rice products Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s to phase out racist images.
Campaigners say brands and sports teams have been slower to remove Native American imagery, but there have been high-profile cases in addition to Team Washington. The Land O’Lakes dairy cooperative said last year it was removing the image of a Native American woman with a feather headband from her packaging. In August, the chief of a ski resort in Lake Tahoe said that after discussions with Native American groups he had decided to remove “squaw” from his name, calling the term “racist and sexist.”
Other examples date from the 1990s, when the University of Miami in Ohio changed its mascot name to the Redhawks from the Redskins after discussions with the Miami tribe. In 2005, the Seminole Tribe of Florida gave Florida State University written permission to use their name and images in exchange for a scholarship program for on-reserve students.
Stacy Leeds, a law professor at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, said the use of Native American images tends to relegate Indigenous peoples to a stereotype that does not represent the reality of a modern people.
She questioned the use by automakers of certain names in their efforts to attract consumers. “What images do they hope to see appear?” she asked. “Are they trying to project the untamed? Are they trying to project the border? “
Ms Harjo, the specialist, said the movement still had a long way to go, but activists had made substantial progress in recent years, especially the last.
“Every now and then something happens that prompts everyone to say again, ‘We are all together to do whatever we can to support each other,’” Ms. Harjo said. “And that’s where we are now.”