The Cherokee Nation asked Jeep to change the name of their popular line. The automaker offered cultural training for its employees but declined to change the name of their vehicles. Where does this leave the automaker and the Cherokee Nation now?
Indigenous people speak out about the brand
Talks between automaker Jeep and Leadership of the Cherokee Nation have failed to result in a commitment from Jeep to change the name of some of its most popular vehicles. First Nations peoples have been outspoken about the harmful effects of exploiting culture for profit. Jeep says talks will remain open despite the company’s refusal to rename the popular SUVs.
The cultural climate in the United States has changed rapidly over the last three decades. As dialogues about cultural sensitivity and racism become more common, demands for change grow louder. Recently the use of race-based stereotypes in marketing has come under particular scrutiny.
Demands for major football teams in Washington and baseball teams in Cleveland to remove harmful language and imagery from their brands were finally heard. Consumer products saw problematic imagery removed from packaging as well. The automotive industry must also grow and adapt to the new cultural dialogue.
Jeep’s CEO draws criticism
Jeep’s CEO Carlos Tavares said he was open to dropping the Cherokee name from his popular vehicle line. While this open-minded attitude was welcomed, these talks would ultimately result in no change to the brand.
Tavares drew criticism when he was quoted as saying “At this stage; I don’t know if there’s a real problem, but if there is one, of course, we’ll solve it.” When asked if Jeep would change the name under public pressure, the CEO seemed to backtrack.
Tavares went on to say that he did not see the use of the name as negative. He was quoted as saying that using the Cherokee name was a valid form of expression. The Cherokee Nation’s Principal Chief John Hoskins said, “I’m sure this comes from a well-intentioned place, but it does not honor us by having our name plastered on the side of a car.
Tavares may be open to talks, but it seems he may have missed the point. The Cherokee Nation argues that using their identity does not fall under a person’s right to creative expression.
Stellantis statement misses the mark
The Wall Street Journal reports that Kristen Starnes, a Stellantis spokeswoman, made a statement that the vehicle’s name had been “nurtured over the years to honor and celebrate Native American people for their nobility, prowess, and pride.” Stellantis owns the Jeep brand. The automotive conglomerate seems to have missed the point as well.
Since the 1970s, Jeep has used the name to sell its cars. The brand stopped using the name for several years but revived it in 2013. Currently, Jeep’s website has plans for a spring 2021 Cherokee release.
A pivotal moment in Jeep history
Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr said in February 2021 “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”.
Hoskin went on to say “the best way to honor has 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.
The best move that jeep and Stellantis can make to listen to the Cherokee People’s voice and honor their request. With approximately 370,000 members, The Cherokee Nation is the largest indigenous tribe in the United States.