Is it time for Jeep to change the name of its popular Cherokee and Grand Cherokee SUVs?
The chief of the Cherokee Nation thinks so.
“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,” Chuck Hoskin Jr., principal chief of the Cherokee Nation said.
Hoskin said he and his staff do not seek out examples of problematic caricatures and depictions of Native Americans, although there are many, but he will continue to comment on these issues if asked about it.
Hoskin is more focused on trying to build a stronger community, clean up from a damaging winter storm and continue the response to COVID-19, but he is clear on the name issue.
“Our proud name should not be a corporate marketing tool,” Hoskin said. “Our name dates back to before recorded history. It’s against all odds that we are even here. Our name is invaluable to us as part of our identity. In 2021, it seems wholly inappropriate for a corporation to continue to make a profit off our identity.”
Hoskin said he participated with representatives from Stellantis, the parent company of the Jeep brand since a merger of Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot maker PSA Group, in a video call in late January. He said he was left with the impression that people in the meeting were of good faith and wanted to understand the concerns, but no commitments were made regarding the Jeep Cherokee name.
The Cherokee name has been part of Jeep for years. Stellantis is heavily invested in the name, with plans to launch the three-row 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L this year. That larger version of the Grand Cherokee SUV is being built at the Detroit Assembly Complex-Mack Plant.
A Stellantis official provided a statement when asked about Hoskin’s comments.
“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. We are, more than ever, committed to a respectful and open dialogue with Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.”
Both the Cherokee, which is made in Belvidere, Ill., and the larger Grand Cherokee, made at the Jefferson North plant in Detroit, represent substantial sales for the Jeep brand. More than 345,000 Cherokee and Grand Cherokees were sold in the United States last year, according to the company.
Sales of Jeep SUVs also represent a particularly profitable chunk of vehicle sales for Stellantis.
Entities using references to Native Americans, particularly those references considered offensive, have been under pressure in recent years to make changes. The most notable recent examples are the National Football League team in Washington and the Major League Baseball team in Cleveland, both of which are being renamed.
Regarding the use of the Cherokee name, Hoskin said he believes it evokes a sense of strength and that people respond favorably. But using the name in this way is not appropriate, he said, and Americans would be better served by having a richer understanding of the culture.
Part of the disconnect is because many Americans don’t have much direct experience with tribes, and schools have generally done a poor job of teaching the history of Native Americans, he said.
Hoskin said the Cherokee Nation is the largest tribe in the United States, with 385,000 citizens. It’s based in northeast Oklahoma but has citizens in every state.
“Originally located in the southeastern United States in parts of Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina, the Cherokee Nation was forced to relocate to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) in 1838 after gold was discovered in our homelands. The thousand-mile forced removal became known as the ‘Trail of Tears’ and came at a cost of nearly 4,000 Cherokee lives through sickness and harsh travel conditions,” according to the Cherokee Nation website.