‘Jeep Grand Christopher sounds good’: Twitter split after Cherokee Nation chief asks carmaker to stop ‘honoring’ his tribe

Naming a vehicle after a Native American tribe is wrong even if the intentions were good, the Cherokee Nation principal chief has said, and Twitter has some ideas for what to call Jeep SUVs instead.

Jeep Cherokee SUVs have been produced since 1974, and in the early 1990s, Chrysler (now part of the Netherlands-based company Stellantis) added the luxury Jeep Grand Cherokee model line to its range. Chuck Hoskin, who heads the largest of the three federally-recognized Cherokee tribes in the US, believes his people’s name should not be “plastered on the side of a car,” regardless of the motives for putting it there.

“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,” he told Car and Driver outlet.

Responding to the sentiment, Jeep’s parent company Stellantis said its vehicles’ names “have been carefully chosen and nurtured over the years to honor and celebrate Native American people for their nobility, prowess, and pride.” It added it was committed to dialogue with the Cherokee Nation.

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In his call, Chief Hoskin referred to a slate of recent rebrandings in the US, in which old racially-themed names and images were dropped under public pressure. The Washington Redskins became the Washington Football Team last summer, while food company Land O’ Lakes stopped using the image of a Native American woman on its packaging last April.

As with any news regarding newfound corporate sensibilities, there was a mixed reaction to the Cherokee chief’s demand. Many people supported it, while some called for royalties to be paid to the Cherokee people for every sale of an SUV bearing their name. Others said the demand was absurd.

Some people came up with new names that Jeep could use instead of Cherokee. One commenter suggested giving the SUVs the name of “some weird white guy” like Christopher, apparently referring to Christopher Columbus, the explorer whose role in kickstarting European colonization of the Americas made him a target for last year’s spree of iconoclasm in the US and other nations.

There is also an argument to be made that the name ‘Cherokee’ originates from a word that another tribe once called them, so rightful ownership is not clear-cut.

The naming controversy ironically comes just as the Cherokee Nation lays to rest some of its own racist demons. On Monday, the tribe’s Supreme Court ordered its constitution be changed by dropping the wording ‘by blood’ from sections referring to citizenship rights.

The language was put there in 2007 by a majority vote and effectively denied citizenship to around 8,500 people of Freedmen descent, whose ancestors were once black slaves owned by Cherokee masters. Granting citizenship to emancipated slaves was part of the 1866 treaty between native tribes and the federal government.

The amendment triggered a legal battle that culminated in 2017, when a US District Judge ruled the demand of blood relation to be discriminatory. The Cherokee Nation didn’t fight it.

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