“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, told Car and Driver.
"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."
Jeep first used "Cherokee" designate a "Cherokee Chief" trim of a 1974 Wagoneer station wagon, but today the name is most associated with the Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee SUVs, a new generation of which is expected to launch soon.
From 2002 to 2013, the name of the Cherokee SUV was changed to Liberty for the North American market, C&D reports. When the Cherokee nameplate was brought back after that hiatus, a Cherokee Nation representative told the New York Times: “We have encouraged and applauded schools and universities for dropping offensive mascots,” adding that “institutionally, the tribe does not have a stance on this.”
But attitudes regarding the use of Native American-related verbiage and likenesses have changed significantly in recent years, particularly in the sports world.
The Washington Redskins permanently rebranded as the Washington Football Team beginning in the 2020-2021 NFL season, dropping what many consider to be a racial slur from its franchise title.
"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," Chief Hoskin said in his statement.
According to Amanda Cobb-Greetham, a professor at the University of Oklahoma and director of the school's Native Nations Center, Native references in popular culture amounts to nothing more than a gimmick.
"Because of the prevalence of the ideology that Native peoples would eventually disappear . . . Native Americans became part of the national mythology of the frontier and the west and the settlement of America," Cobb-Greetham told C&D.
"And that's when suddenly you have Native American mascots and products, cultural kitsch. Car names are a part of that."
Whether Jeep will oblige Cherokee Nation in retiring the name of its best-selling Grand Cherokee and third-biggest-selling Cherokee models is uncertain. For now, they've simply promised to begin talks.
"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.
"We are, more than ever, committed to a respectful and open dialogue with Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr."