The request comes
as the automaker is preparing for the 2021 release of its popular
Jeep introduced its first
Cherokee in 1974, and the SUVs now make up more than 40 percent
of its total sales. But the Cherokee Nation says it's time
for the business and sports worlds to "retire the use of Native
American names, images and mascots." (Carlos Osorio/AP)
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 police killing
Floyd, a Black man, in May. Last year, Washington's National
Football League 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 this month
Quaker Oats' Aunt Jemima line became Pearl
"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 Washington Post.
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 the Cherokee name 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.)
Psychological Association has found that the use of Native people
as mascots and symbols is a form of discrimination, one that negatively
affects 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."
"Imagine a Cherokee kid who is wanting to do a little research
on her own tribe, and she puts Cherokee into the Google search engine
and what's the first thing she's confronted with? It's the Jeep
Cherokee," Hoskin said in an interview with The Post. "I think that
says something to that young person about the country they live
in and how the country collectively values their tribe when what
they see is an SUV."
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 receives no
royalties for its use. Jeep also has used other Native names, in
vehicles such as the Comanche Eliminator and the Gladiator Mojave.
Jeep is hardly alone in using Native names to sell cars. The American
auto industry has a long history of appropriating Native American
identity, especially as a means of evoking ruggedness and dependability
in SUVs and pickups. Chevrolet sold the Apache and the Cheyenne.
Pontiac had the Aztek, though Aztec is the more common spelling
for the ancient Mexican civilization. Mazda had the Navajo, and
Dodge had the Dakota. Winnebago is a leading seller of vans and
"You can get more with a 4-wheel Jeep Cherokee," reads an ad
from the 1970s. "Off-road, the possibilities are unlimited,
handling most any situation with ease. On-road, in slippery or dangerous
driving situations, you inherit a confidence you never thought possible
As chief, Hoskin said, his job is bring about a broader public
understanding of Cherokee history and culture. He said he thinks
use of the tribe's name on products such as the Jeep Cherokee, while
well-intended, does nothing to deepen knowledge about the Cherokee
"That's a very limiting way of educating people," Hoskin said.
"It also reinforces this idea that Cherokees are from some bygone
era, and that all we have left is whatever symbols we might cobble
Cherokee oral history dates back "through the millennia," according
Originally located in the southeastern United States, the Cherokee
Nation was forced to relocate to present-day Oklahoma in 1838
after gold was discovered in the tribe's homelands. More than 4,000
Cherokee people died on the 1,000-mile removal route known as the
"Trail of Tears."
Today, the sovereign government of Cherokee Nation represents more
than 380,000 people in the United States, making it the largest
tribal nation in the country.
"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.