The Cherokee Nation said it's time for corporations such as Jeep and sports franchises to retire the use of Native American names and imagery.
Jeep has used the Cherokee tag for nearly 50 years, and its Grand Cherokee has been a top seller for the off-road adventure brand.
The Cherokee Nation, however, doesn't think slapping its name on the side of a vehicle is the best way to honor them, said Chuck Hoskin Jr., its principal chief.
Hoskin said Stellantis reached out to the Cherokee Nation in late January to get a better understanding of its position around the use of the Cherokee name. Hoskin credits the automaker for engaging with the nation on the issue.
"I made it clear that I certainly wasn't giving my blessing to use Cherokee," Hoskin told Automotive News. "I thought it was the right move to drop it. And I think they respectfully declined to take that action. But they also left the door open, I think, for further discussions, and so did we. So I think it was a good discussion in that respect."
Car and Driver first reported the Cherokee Nation's stance on Saturday.
"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," Hoskin told Car and Driver in a written statement. "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, a key brand for Stellantis, the entity created by the merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and PSA, is preparing to launch its redesigned Grand Cherokee this year, including its first three-row variant.
"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," Jeep said in a statement. "We are, more than ever, committed to a respectful and open dialogue with Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr."
The movement around social justice that erupted last year after the death of George Floyd in police custody has put pressure on companies to reevaluate some of their business practices. Discontinuing the use of Native American names, a controversial topic for years, has been one of the more visible measures that organizations have taken.
The National Football League's Washington, D.C., franchise formerly known as the Redskins played this past season without a moniker, and was known only as Washington Football Team. In Major League Baseball, the Cleveland Indians team announced in December that it would change its name.
"I hope that this discussion does cause them to eventually drop the name," Hoskin told Automotive News on Monday. "My expectation is not that they go out and drop it tomorrow. My expectation is that they continue to be genuinely interested in understanding the issue, and I think that'll bring them eventually to a place where they no longer use the Cherokee name."
Hoskin added: "I think the more people understand that, yes, Jeep may see this as a name they've had for a long time in a period of decades, [but] we've had this name a bit longer since before recorded history. This is the name of a proud native people that still exist, a sovereign nation."