In 1975, Jeep presented a vehicle that experts often credit as the first SUV: the Cherokee. After a production hiatus from 2002-2013 during which the Jeep Liberty replaced the Cherokee, the automobile brand used the name of the Native American tribe again when it reintroduced the model in 2014. Now, the Cherokee Nation would like the Jeep Cherokee’s name to change, according to its principal chief.
Attitudes Have Been Changing Over The Years
Jeep has been criticized for this practice in the past. After receiving backlash for bringing back the model name in 2013, a spokesperson for the company told the New York Times that it respected changing attitudes toward stereotyping.
“We want to be politically correct, and we don’t want to offend anybody,” Jim Morrison, director of Jeep marketing, told the New York Times at the time. “We just haven’t gotten any feedback that was disparaging.”
In the same article, Amanda Clinton, a spokeswoman for the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, told the newspaper that the tribe is really opposed to stereotypes.
“It would have been nice for them to have consulted us in the very least,” Clinton said. “We have encouraged and applauded schools and universities for dropping offensive mascots.”
She added that the tribe did not have an institutional stance on the practice at that time and that the Cherokee name is not copyrighted, but that Jeep had never offered royalties for its use of the name.
Cherokee Chief Says Jeep Should Retire Model Name
When asked for comment on the Jeep matter recently, Cherokee Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. responded to Car and Driver with a written statement.
“I’m sure this comes from a place that is well-intended, but it does not honor us by having our name plastered on the side of a car,” Hoskin wrote in the statement,
“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.”
Stellantis, the company that owns Jeep, stated that it has carefully chosen and nurtured vehicle names to “honor and celebrate Native American people for their nobility, prowess and pride.” It currently sells two vehicles that bear the Cherokee name, the Cherokee and the Grand Cherokee.
The company reached out and spoke to Hoskin via a Zoom call. While the Cherokee chief told CNBC that he doesn’t expect the company to change the vehicle name immediately, he said the Nation disapproves of the use of the name.
“My view is that a corporation shouldn’t be marketing its products using our name,” Hoskin told CNBC. “For the Jeep company, I think they look at it as something they conceived of decades ago, and I think they very much, in good faith, believe this is honoring the Cherokee people. I disagree, and we’ve had this name a bit longer than the Jeep company has. We’ve had it since before recorded history.”
Cherokee Chief Is Hopeful About Jeep Discussions
Recently, numerous brands, sports teams and others have voluntarily changed names, images and identities to reflect cultural sensitivity and banish stereotypes.
“I think people need to understand that as proud as a corporation might be of a name they selected decades ago, people should think about how proud the Cherokee people are to still be a people after all we have been through, and that is far more valuable than whatever marketing research might show the Cherokee name has been to Jeep and its parent companies over the decades,” Chief Hoskin told Insider.
The Cherokee chief anticipates further discussions with Jeep executives regarding a potential rebranding and says he is encouraged that the company and its customers might consider doing so.
“I’m hopeful over time that things get better,” Hoskin told CNBC.
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