Jeep’s facing the first official requests to drop the Cherokee name nearly 50 years after launching the SUV

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The 2021 Grand Cherokee L. Jeep

Jeep has been building the Cherokee SUV since the 1970s, but nearly 50 years later, there’s a chance it could soon be called something else. The Cherokee Nation wants the automaker to stop using its name – marking the first time the tribe has officially requested a change, but not the first time the discussion has come up.

While Jeep’s responded with more or less a non-answer, the company’s top boss says he’s open to the idea of changing it.

“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,” Chuck Hoskin Jr., the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, told Car and Driver in February. “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.”

The Cherokee Nation has more than 380,000 tribal citizens, making it the biggest tribal government in the United States. Its request is one of many from Native tribes in recent years.

A 1974 Jeep Cherokee.
A 1974 Jeep Cherokee. FCA Group

The Washington Football Team recently dropped its moniker. The Cleveland Indians baseball team has said it will do the same, while the Land O’Lakes dairy company stopped using an indigenous woman as a mascot. But not all of the attempts have been successful – the Atlanta Braves baseball team has resisted a name change, as has the Kansas City Chiefs football team.Oftentimes, the mascots are depicted as harmful stereotypes and rely on racist caricatures. This does nothing to undo insensitive and ignorant thinking and can actually reinforce it.

The Jeep Cherokee first appeared in 1974 as a two-door version of the Jeep Wagoneer. In 1992, Jeep launched the Grand Cherokee as a more luxurious Jeep offering. The name was briefly retired in the 2000s when the Cherokee was renamed the Jeep Liberty in the North American market, but it returned in 2013 as a compact SUV.

2014 Jeep Cherokee.
The 2014 Cherokee. Jeep

On returning the name, Jim Morrison, the current head of Jeep, told The New York Times in June of that year: “We want to be politically correct, and we don’t want to offend anybody. We just haven’t gotten any feedback that was disparaging.””We are really opposed to stereotypes,” Amanda Clinton, a spokesperson for the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, said in the same story. “It would have been nice for them to have consulted us in the very least.”

Clinton acknowledged that there’s no copyright on the Cherokee name and that the tribe was not offered royalties on its use.

The Cherokee Nation has never specifically asked Jeep to change the Jeep Cherokee’s name until now. The current discussion started with the official, written statement from Hoskin to Car and Driver back in February as Jeep readies itself to launch the newest and fifth generation of the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

“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 in response to the outlet’s request for comment on the upcoming Jeep.

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The 1984 Cherokee Chief. Jeep

Stellantis, Jeep’s parent company, responded to Hoskin’s February statement a few days later. Per The New York Times: “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.”

On March 3, Carlos Tavares, the CEO of Stellantis, told The Wall Street Journal that he was “open” to the idea of Jeep dropping the Cherokee name from its models.

Though he isn’t “personally involved” in the discussions, Tavares said: “We are ready to go to any point, up to the point where we decide with the appropriate people and with no intermediaries. At this stage, I don’t know if there is a real problem. But if there is one, well, of course we will solve it.”

“The Cherokee Nation has an open dialogue with Stellantis leadership, and looks forward to ongoing discussions,” A Cherokee Nation spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal. “We appreciate Stellantis’ reaching out and thoughtful approach on this.”

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The 1985 Cherokee Laredo. Jeep

Car and Driver spoke with Amanda Cobb-Greetham, a professor and director of the Native Nations Center at the University of Oklahoma, and learned that “the use of Native imagery in sports and popular culture started around the turn of the 20th century” due to the fact that the US was home to fewer than 300,000 Native Americans.”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 said. “And that’s when suddenly you have Native American mascots and products, cultural kitsch. Car names are a part of that.”

Using Native mascots is “detrimental Native people,” according to a study conducted by the University of Michigan and coauthored by Arianne Eason, an assistant professor of psychology at UC Berkeley. She said the mascots “decrease Native individuals’ self-esteem, community worth and achievement-related aspirations.”

Cobb-Greetham, herself a member of the Chickasaw Nation, told Car and Driver: “If you’re going to honor somebody, give them an award. If you’re going to name a product after them, you’re selling.”