Noting that the tribe is the rightful owner of its own name, the current head of the Cherokee Nation formally requested that Jeep stop using it as the brand name for its popular SUVs. Jeep thus far has demurred, though it also explicitly noted its continued openness to “dialogue” on the topic. Recent societal pushes for more respectful acknowledgment of cultural and historical traditions also suggest that the carmaker ultimately will need to change the name. For example, despite decades of resistance, the owner of the NFL team from Washington DC finally agreed to remove the racist term used previously as a mascot. Another option, demonstrated by Florida State University, is to request and receive explicit permission to use the tribe’s name, as it did from the Seminole Tribe of Florida. In return, the university established a scholarship program to facilitate the educational goals of tribe members. For Jeep, the pattern implies it cannot simply continue to market Grand Cherokee vehicles as it has in the past; it either needs to convince the Cherokee Nation to provide permission, and likely reciprocate for that right in some way, or else rebrand. The SUV model first was introduced in the 1970s, removed from the market during the early 2000s, and reintroduced in 2014, after which it regained its great popularity. Thus changing the name may seem like a questionable move, but risking national approbation for exploiting native peoples might not be much more effective for the brand.
Source: Jenny Gross, “Chief of Cherokee Nation Asks Jeep to Stop Using Tribe’s Name,” The New York Times, February 25, 2021