The principal chief of the Cherokee Nation thinks it's time for Jeep to put a new name on its Cherokee and Grand Cherokee SUVs.
"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. told Car and Driver magazine.
Hoskin told the Free Press he responded on the topic after the magazine reached out to ask about it. He and his staff, he said, do not seek out examples of problematic caricatures and depictions of American Indians, although there are many, but he will continue to comment on these issues if asked about it.
"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 Amsterdam-based 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 people of good faith who wanted to understand the concerns, but no commitments were made regarding the Jeep 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.
"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.," according to the statement sent by Stellantis spokesman Rick Deneau.
More than 345,000 Cherokee and Grand Cherokee vehicles were sold in the United States last year, according to the company.
Entities using references to American Indians, particularly those references considered offensive, have been under pressure in recent years to makes 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 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 their history.
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.