First the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins, Now the Jeep Cherokee Is Besieged

From a story on by Annie White headlined “Chief of Cherokee Nation Says ‘It’s Time’ for Jeep to Stop Using Name”:

For the first time, the Cherokee Nation is asking Jeep to change the name of its Cherokee and Grand Cherokee vehicles.

“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 has been building cars that wear the Cherokee Nation’s name for more than 45 years. In that time, the company has gone on the record several times defending its decision to use the name of a Native American nation on its cars. Over the past eight years, since the reintroduction of the Cherokee nameplate to the U.S. market in 2013, the Cherokee Nation has gone on the record, too, but it had never explicitly said that Jeep should change the cars’ names.

Now, as Jeep prepares to launch the next generation of the Grand Cherokee against the backdrop of high-profile name changes in the world of sports, that has changed.

In his statement, Chief Hoskin alluded to the mainstreaming of racial justice concepts following the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, as well as those sports stories. In December, Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team made the decision to drop its nickname and mascot. Last July, Washington D.C.’s NFL team announced it would stop using a nickname long considered a racial slur. The team spent last season known only as the Washington Football Team. . . .

In 2005, the National Collegiate Athletic Association began prohibiting colleges and universities from displaying hostile or abusive nicknames, mascots, or imagery. Last spring, the dairy company Land O’ Lakes removed the image of a Native American woman it has used on its packaging.

“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.

According to Amanda Cobb-Greetham, a professor at the University of Oklahoma and director of the school’s Native Nations Center, the use of Native imagery in sports and popular culture started around the turn of the 20th century. At that time, there were fewer than 300,000 Native Americans living in the United States. “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.”. . .

Last June, as protests over the death of George Floyd spurred discussions about racial justice, Chief Hoskin told the Wall Street Journal, “We hope the movement away from using tribes’ names and depictions or selling products without our consent, continues. We much prefer a cooperative effort than an adversarial one.”

The most recognized example of that type of effort is probably the arrangement between Florida State University and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. It includes a scholarship program for students from the reservation. In 2005, the Seminole Tribe issued a resolution calling its relationship with the school a “historic partnership.” The Cherokee Nation said it has no such relationship with Jeep.

Told of Chief Hoskin’s call to end the use of the Cherokee name on its cars, Jeep said in a statement, “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.”

Also see a Washington Post story by Marc Bonesteel headlined “The Braves have resisted a name change, but Hank Aaron’s death renews calls for ‘The Hammers'”—from the story:

Calls to rename the Braves are not a recent development. In 1972, when Native American activist Russell Means sued the Cleveland Indians for $9 million because of their name, he also pledged to take aim at the Braves, particularly because of their Chief Noc-A-Homa mascot, who danced around a tepee erected in the left field seats at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

“What if it was the Atlanta Germans and after every home run a German dressed in a military uniform began hitting a Jew on the head with a baseball bat?” Means said. “Or what if it were the Cleveland Negroes and a black man came trotting out of a shanty in center field and did a soft shoe?”

The Braves retired Chief Noc-A-Homa, who for most of his existence was portrayed by a Native American named Levi Walker, before the 1986 season. But controversy over the team’s name and the in-game “Tomahawk Chop” chant lingered. During the 2019 National League Division Series between the Braves and St. Louis, Cardinals reliever Ryan Helsley, a Cherokee Nation member, called out the Braves for their continued acceptance of the chant at home games.

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