Jeep to unveil new Cherokee SUVs amid name controversy

Brandi Kellam
·3 min read

Jeep is expected to unveil the latest edition of one its most popular SUV lines with an updated look soon, but it seems it may not incorporate the major change some Native American leaders have been asking for.

The newest installment of the Cherokee series arrives this spring with a reworked design but the same name, despite growing calls for the company to change the branding on their cars, which carry the name of the largest indigenous tribe in the U.S.

Jeep has used the Cherokee name for over 45 years, but last month, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. called on Jeep to remove his tribe's name from all of its vehicles in a new and formal push to stop the company's use of the Native American label.

"Their wishes need to be respected," said Rhonda Levaldo, a Haskell Indian Nations University faculty member, who also leads a group called Not in Our Honor, which advocates against the use of Native American imagery in sports.

Levaldo, who is from the Acoma Pueblo tribe, says that when companies use various Nation names for commercial purposes, the practice feels more like appropriation, rather than a tribute to Native American culture.

"We don't feel honored by using our likeness to sell products or even for sports teams," she said.

Jeep's new parent company, Stellantis, has signaled that they are open to a discussion.

In a statement provided to CBS News, the company said, "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.," the statement adds.

A Cherokee Nation spokesperson also alluded to ongoing conversations on the topic. "The Cherokee Nation has an open dialogue with Stellantis leadership, and look forward to ongoing discussions," the spokesperson said.

Just last month, Hoskin, Jr. told Car and Driver that the tribe is not honored "by having our name plastered on the side of the car."  Sharon Carty, the editor in chief of the publication — which was the first to report on the Cherokee Nation's newest request for Jeep to drop the name — told CBS News' Errol Barnett that businesses are now, more than ever, facing calls to change how they are referencing Native American culture.

"For the first time, folks are really paying attention," said Carty.

Carty said recent history shows that whether companies will agree to name changes, even under pressure, can be unpredictable. She cited the Washington Football team, which had been called the "Redskins" since 1933, but decided to drop the name after decades of criticism and resistance.

"And sometimes you see other places where the folks just dig in their heels," she said, noting that the Atlanta Braves baseball team has resisted a name change, but has said it would look into the tomahawk symbol on the team's jerseys and the "tomahawk chop" gesture performed by fans.

Levaldo's group is also asking Kansas City's football team to change its name and stop the tomahawk chop.

"People don't really see us for who we are," Levaldo said, adding that having a sports team or product named for a Native American tribe is not the preferred way to honor the culture.

Levaldo pointed out that the team names, "also leads to that stereotype that we're no longer here."

"I would ask people to look at us from a different perspective as human beings and, you know, respect our identity," she said.

U.S. sales for the Cherokee SUV were down 29% in 2020, and the company laid off 150 workers at an Illinois plant that produces the car, according to the Detroit Free Press.

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