Off-Roading on the Trail of Tears

October 10th, 2007

On Jeep’s Decision to Replace the Cherokee With the Patriot

My friend gets a new car because his old one dies. It’s a Jeep Patriot; I have a 1995 Jeep Cherokee Sport. He laughs because the Patriot replaced the Cherokee, he thinks it’s ironic, so do I, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

It’s ironic that two patriotically named cars replaced the Native American named Jeep. Some might complain that naming an SUV after a Native American tribe is exploitative, but as a person of Native American descent, I want to make it known that I feel the Cherokee people would have been proud to be represented by a car that was so innovative, popular, and enduring.

The Jeep Cherokee (SJ) was first introduced in 1974 as a full size SUV similar to a Ford Bronco of the same time period. The SJ could out run any 4×4 with it’s 6.6 liter V8 engine and was the first vehicle to win Four Wheeler Magazine’s “Achievement Award” which would become “Four Wheeler of the Year” award.

In 1978 designers from AMC (American Motor Cars) and Renault a French automotive manufacture created the design for the first compact SUV the Jeep Cherokee (XJ). Out of these designs the Jeep Cherokee (XJ) was introduced in 1984 in both two-door and four-door versions. All that time I thought I was driving a piece of modern day Americana, but no, it has a European inspired design. A European designed car manufactured in the U.S. named after a tribe of Native Americans. Irony abounds.

That design has remained nearly unchanged in it’s 17 years of production and it’s popularity has earned it recognition as a masterpiece of automotive design. A car design that remains fixed for so long is unheard of in the automotive industry. According to my mechanic at home the “straight six”-cylinder engine is almost unkillable, as evidenced by the 168,000 miles on mine. It was so popular in 1993 that it was saved from it’s replacement by the larger Grand Cherokee.

The Cherokee was replaced by the Jeep Liberty in 2001, but is still sold under the name Cherokee in Australia, South Africa, Europe and Asia. In China, the Cherokee lives on as the Jeep 2500, the same XJ design with an updated grille and headlights. In the U.S., however, the Cherokee model is fading away as the Patriot, the Liberty, and the Compass arrive. I guess I’ll have to buy a Grand Cherokee or import a Jeep 2500 when it’s time to part with my current Cherokee. It’s the least I can do. The Cherokee lives on in China while here in the land of the Cherokee we’re phasing out Native American names in favor of symbols of nationalism and manifest destiny. I’m choking on the irony.

It’s just an SUV, but sometimes it’s the smallest ironies that hit me the hardest. Yes the fact that Jeep may have done all this unwittingly is funny. There are so many negative stereotypes that surround the Native American race, however, that I’m a little bit sad to see this one go. We all hate Indian givers, that damn Indian summer (the two week heat wave at the end of September that makes us unpack our shorts) and nobody wanted to be the Indian when we played cowboys and Indians. Amidst all that negativity stood the Cherokee and it was one of the best SUV’s this country ever built, but no longer will it be associated with the Native American people.

It’s a small irony, a little slight against my heritage, but it stirs up stronger feelings in me. It’s not a small irony to me that my grandmother lived on a reservation. It’s not a small irony to me that I feel like a sell out for playing the white man’s game and not knowing nearly enough about the sacred religion and philosophy of my ancestors. It’s not a small irony to me that I as much as I try to keep in touch I’m still separated by two generations. I haven’t been forced from my home, but my heritage has been taken from me. It’s not a small irony to me when people say they want the Mexicans out of their country, when their country that was built on lands that it did not own, lands that were taken with violence and bloodshed. In my heart, it will never be their land.

So Jeep, Fuck You. Fuck you and fuck the Patriot, the Liberty, the Compass and especially the Commander. Long live the Cherokee.

by Joshua Elmer

Whaling Wall Matthew Farrell
Chow Feng Shui Josh Elmer
Stained Glass Ceiling Emily McNeill
Anarchitect Mike Berlin
SaHarrison Desert Harrison Flatau
Metrolollipopolis Jennifer Konerman
Tropic of Scurvy Heather Newberger
Copy Editors Danielle Sherwood
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Front cover and back cover of print edition by Jake I. Forney.
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