| Washington Post
After more than 45 years — and just ahead of a new release — the Cherokee Nation is asking Jeep to rename its top-selling Cherokee and Grand Cherokee vehicles.
The request comes as the corporate and sports worlds have had to reexamine their use of racial images and stereotypes amid a larger societal reckoning on race and equality following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, in police custody in May. Last year, Washington’s NFL team retired a nickname long regarded as a racial slur, while Cleveland’s professional baseball team announced it would drop “Indians” from its name. Land O’Lakes quietly removed the indigenous woman from its packaging, and earlier this month Quaker Oats’ Aunt Jemima line became Pearl Milling Company.
“I think we’re in a day and age in this country where it’s time for both corporations and team sports to retire the use of Native American names, images and mascots from their products, team jerseys and sports in general,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a statement to Car and Driver and later shared with The Post. Hoskin represents more than 380,000 members and the nation’s largest tribal government.
The American Psychological Association has found that the use of native people as mascots and symbols is a form of discrimination, one that negatively impacts the self-esteem of Native children and undermines the ability of Native nations “to portray accurate and respectful images of their culture, spirituality and traditions.”
The Cherokee Nation has repeatedly expressed frustration with Jeep’s use of the name, but this marks its first direct request for a change.
“Our vehicle names have been carefully chosen and nurtured over the years to honor and celebrate Native American people for their nobility, prowess, and pride,” Jeep said in a statement to The Post that was first reported by Car and Driver. “We are, more than ever, committed to a respectful and open dialogue with Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr.”
The original Jeep Cherokee was introduced in 1974 as the original “sport utility vehicle” with bucket seats and “racy detailing” designed to appeal to younger, more adventurous drivers, according to Jeep’s website. In 2020, the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee made up more than 40 percent of Jeep’s total sales, Car and Driver reported.
Jeep replaced Cherokee with Liberty in the North American market in 2002, but resurrected the name 12 years later after market research revealed “a marked fondness” for it, the New York Times reported in 2013.
“We want to be politically correct, and we don’t want to offend anybody,” Jeep’s former director of marketing – now head of the Jeep brand in North America – Jim Morrison told the Times in 2013. “We just haven’t gotten any feedback that was disparaging.” (In the same story, a spokeswoman for the Cherokee Nation said the tribe was “really opposed to stereotypes” and that the tribe had not been consulted.)
The 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee, which “carries itself with rugged elegance,” is slated to hit dealerships this spring. But since the tribe’s name is not trademarked, the Cherokee nation received no royalties for its use. Jeep also has used other Native names, in vehicles such as the “Comanche Eliminator” and “Gladiator Mojave.”
In his statement, Hoskin said that while he was certain Jeep’s use of Cherokee was well-intended, but “it does not honor us by having our name plastered on the side of a car.” He confirmed that Jeep and the Cherokee Nation had engaged in discussion about the matter earlier this year, but that the tribe remains opposed to the name.
“The best way to honor us is to learn about our sovereign government, our role in this country, our history, culture and language and have meaningful dialogue with federally recognized tribes on cultural appropriateness,” Hoskin said.
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