Thursday, February 25, 2021

Cherokee Nation Requests that Jeep Discontinue Use of "Cherokee" Name

Chuck Hoskin, Jr., the principal chief of the Cherokee nation has asked carmaker Jeep to change the name of its Grand Cherokee vehicle stating that Jeep's use of the name without the tribe's permission is troubling and perpetuates international misinformation of the Cherokee people.  According to Hoskin "The use of Cherokee names and imagery for peddling products doesn't deepen the country's understanding of what it means to be Cherokee, and I think it diminishes it somewhat."  As might be expected for those that have followed American Indian cultural appropriation throughout the last several decades, the carmaker is resisting such a move claiming that the name "honors" the tribe.

Stellantis, the automobile conglomerate that owns Jeep, formed recently from the merger of Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot, defended its use of the Cherokee name claiming "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."  This argument echoes the same arguments used for decades by Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Washington Football Team (formerly the Redskins) and the owners of the Cleveland Indians (who have also recently agreed to change the team name after phasing out the offensive Chief Wahoo logo a few years ago).  For Stellantis, the Grand Cherokee is one of Jeep's most popular models selling more than 200,000 units in 2020.

Suzan Shown Harjo, long an activist fighting against cultural misappropriation and offensive use of American Indian imagery, is not buying the "honor" argument.  "Of course it's not an honor" states Harjo, "That’s the assumption that was made by so many people about our land, water, gold, silver, copper — name a mineral. Now it’s about our imagery, our names and our cultural icons . . . When does this thievery stop?"  

The Cherokee Nation describes itself as a sovereign tribal government. "Upon settling in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) after the Indian Removal Act, the Cherokee people established a new government in what is now the city of Tahlequah, Oklahoma. A constitution was adopted on September 6, 1839, 68 years prior to Oklahoma’s statehood.  Today, the Cherokee Nation is the largest tribe in the United States with more than 380,000 tribal citizens worldwide. More than 141,000 Cherokee Nation citizens reside within the tribe’s reservation boundaries in northeastern Oklahoma. . . . The Cherokee Nation is committed to protecting our inherent sovereignty, preserving and promoting Cherokee culture, language and values, and improving the quality of life for the next seven generations of Cherokee Nation citizens."

Whether Jeep drops the moniker will likely depend on whether the same kind of financial pressure is brought against Jeep and Stellantis similar to what was brought to bear on Daniel Snyder and the Washington Football Team and corporate entities like Aunt Jemima, Land-O-Lakes and Uncle Ben's.  Each of these entities have been persuaded to change/drop racist depictions and monikers because of the economic pressure of threatened boycotts and sponsorship withdrawals, particularly in light of the 2020 summer of protests following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

hat tip: Savannah Johnston, Arkansas Little Rock Bowen School of Law, 3L

images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons