Opinion: Should Indian change its name?

I was corresponding with a friend over text recently about his next motorcycle purchase. He’s been picking my brains about which bike to buy and was requesting some insight on a couple different models he’s been looking at. The Indian Chief Dark Horse has been striking his fancy as of late, but he doesn’t have a dealer in close proximity and others seem to be slapping an extra $1000 on the top of the purchase price due to low inventory and high demand. Next came a discussion that wouldn’t have happened even two years ago – how comfortable he’d be riding a motorcycle called an Indian with a caricature of the brand’s namesake on the tank. It wouldn’t have been part of the purchase consideration in the past for most, but it is now. And that’s a good thing.

We’ve all been reading and hearing a lot about white privilege these days. Some dismiss it as merely politically correct BS, while some of us take it to heart by considering how small actions and simple modifications to everyday language can make the lives of others significantly better. While I do agree that this newfound era of cancel culture can be hazardous as everyone seems to be competing over who can be the most “woke,” it is also high time we rid ourselves of some highly offensive traditions that don’t serve any purpose or provide any benefit.

Monetizing products based on the names and imagery of indigenous people is rampant if you take a moment to think about it. The names and mascots of many North American sports teams have come under fire over recent years, which is long overdue. The Cleveland Indians have replaced Chief Wahoo with a C and the Washington Redskins retired their logo at the start of the 2020 season, referring to themselves as the Washington Football Team. Edmonton’s CFL team has backed away from using the name Eskimos after consulting Inuit communities and receiving a backlash from sponsors. Chuck Hoskin Jr., the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, has requested that Jeep stop using the name to sell their SUVs, to no avail thus far.

Would Caucasians be upset if a visible minority group marketed a product or sports team as “The Honkeys” or “The Crackers”? Maybe. Maybe not. However, we also haven’t been segregated or assimilated, victimized, brutalized and repressed for centuries, so it isn’t an even playing field.

The company now known as Indian Motorcycle has been around (inconsistently) since 1901 but didn’t adopt the Indian name until 1923 – years before Cleveland named their team the Indians or Jeep launched the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee. Just because we’ve been doing something for over a century, is that sufficient justification to keep doing it?

Making things even more questionable is the fact that Christopher Columbus named First Nations people Indians back in 1492 because he was lost and thought he was in India. Here we are in 2021, and somehow, we’re still calling them Indians.

My best friend Grant is a fellow Triumph owner who discovered through research of his ancestry as an adult that he is in fact Métis, which has led him to explore the heritage and experience of his people in particular, and Natives in general. Spoiler alert: it’s not a pretty picture. Reservations and residential schools are just the tip of the iceberg. I asked him about his thought on the matter.

“Obviously I can’t speak on behalf of all First Nations about caricature portrayals of indigenous peoples in popular culture and brands, but it’s highly problematic,” he explains. “Pro sports teams have started making reparations by changing names and logos which is long overdue. One could argue that these portrayals help bring awareness of the First Nations people to a larger audience, but unfortunately the legacy is typically intended to stereotype and dehumanize the groups portrayed. I see the Indian motorcycle brand as a caricature and objectification of a race of people as “noble savages” for marketing purposes. I’m sure the intent of the brand wasn’t to oppress an entire people. It was simply intended to sell motorcycles. However, things change and it’s time that brands caught up to modern societal values.”

If someone was using your likeness or family name for financial gain, you’d likely have little issue gaining support in the arena of trademark law, however, First Nations people seem to be the exception to this rule. If Indian used its position as an enterprise to fund initiatives that support the Native population, that would go a long way to help their cause.

This of course has nothing to do with the quality of the motorcycles themselves, and sales don’t seem to have been impacted by this newfound sense of cultural sensitivity. In fact, even during the most strange and tumultuous year in recent memory, sales were up in 2020. While there was a moderate dip in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Russia all helped boost numbers close to record levels seen in 2017.

My question is how much value and cache the name really brings. Would riders be more or less inclined to buy the same motorcycle if it was called a Victory, for example? After all, Polaris Industries owns the rights to both entities. I’d be curious to know the reasons why they chose to invest in Indian and scrap Victory.

As the world becomes more PC-friendly, I do think that the name and branding will do more harm than good, ultimately having a negative impact on sales in the future. I certainly don’t want to see the company fail, nor do I wish anything but the best for those who make their living and support their families working for the company. I merely think that supporting and perpetuating a certain pattern of cultural appropriation is best left in the past.

I wouldn’t look down on anyone for purchasing an Indian. I certainly don’t think it makes them evil, racist, or ignorant. It does however make them complicit. And as they say, “Money talks.” Things are unlikely to change until the bottom line is threatened, so that may be the best way to get results.

22 COMMENTS

  1. Little weasel thanks for confirming my purchase of an Indian chieftain. The Indian brand represents a proud steong people dedicated and wise….btw ride your triump Nancy boy

  2. Article is virtue signalling codswallop. That’s a stylized image (emblem) not a ‘caricature’. ‘Indian’ as an indigenous category isn’t even used anymore for First Nation tribes, just as Inuit replaced ‘Eskimo’ years ago, before the wokeflake agenda began.
    If it was ‘white’ bikes the Caucasians be proud to be immortalised this way!
    With an appropriate emblem, of course!

    • Another WOKE article that makes people dumber for having read it. Dude seriously, find another line of work. Grow a set and stop riding scooters.

  3. One last comment. Indian Motorcycle did consult Indigenous people about the logo. It was those people that asked Indian Motorcycle to create the logo with his face looking up because this posture had a positive meaning.

  4. I’ve been riding for 41 yrs and the last 31 yrs I have been riding/racing hyper-sport bikes. Now, perhaps due to age, I am purchasing a 2022 FRT R Carbon for a more comfortable ride and the sense I should be slowing down.

    Before making the decision to purchase an Indian motorcycle, I spent nights reading, researching everything I could on this topic. I found a number articles/interviews with indigenous people on the topic. Some had concerns, fewer had issues with Indian Motorcycle Corp. But, most were pro Indian motorcycles. I found more then half dozen Indigenous activists and leaders that all road Indian motorcycles. There are indigenous motorcycle clubs that ride Indian motorcycles. Even a famous Indigenous singer, Arvel Bird, who wrote and sings his song, “Ride Indian Ride,” a tribute to Indian Motorcycles.

    I remember when some new patients found out I bought a new RAM pickup truck. They were aghast that an educated medical professional would drive a pickup truck due to their false stereotype of people who drive pickups. I found myself justifying my right to drive a truck.

    Everybody has an opinion and everybody will be offended. I chose to purchase the FTR. Not to offend but because I love quality motorcycles and love to ride, period. And I’m sorry if I offended you.

  5. The world worries way too much about so-called slights in name and picture-hwo about meaningful change in attitudes-which would mean a whole lot more and accually be a positive change.

  6. World ain’t perfect. The people whining that “Political correctness is a cancer to humanity” are just as offended. Times change, views change, we aren’t stuck in whatever era you would “prefer”. However lets let facts be facts.

    Polaris started using the name in 2011. If they looked North of their border “idle no more” was happening around the same time. Furthermore there is no brand continuity, they are just cashing on a name.

    Would I buy one- no. Its distasteful, and I know it offends people. I don’t ride to make a political statement or to offend. I have First Nations friends, why would I want to make a caricature out of them? And if you want to be really practical then buying something else will save you an annoying conversation at a party.

    Such is life, things change. Such is the market as well. The invisible hand won’t be too kind to “Indian” when the boomers die off. There are plenty of bikes that fill that niche, with similar styling at the same or lower price.

  7. Indian is painting themselves into a corner. You can tell by the previous comments that this issue is polarizing, but it is also a generational question. There is simply no future in that brand name. Trying to carry it forward is only creating ill-will, turning off potential customers before they even consider the actual bike.

  8. I’m sure the exec’s at Indian are trembling at the prospect that they are to be perceived as being unwoke as a corporate citizen. Until they realize their clientele by and large aren’t concerned.

    I’m sure HD are clicking their boot heels in joy that their competitions magic brand name is being drawn through the mud. Are they to send their check to the author directly or to care of CMG?

    I was waiting to see this issue brought up in the motorcycle industry. Of course, it was here.

  9. Political correctness is a cancer on humanity. The article is just another tumor. Get a grip. Grow a spine. Be an adult and stop choosing to be offended. Life is too short to take this seriously!

    • You are right these are the thoughts of Children. Can journalists take some kind of adult thought aptitude test before they put pen to paper or fingers to a keyboard. Childish thoughts end with uninformed reporting.

  10. My question is how much value and cache the name really brings. Would riders be more or less inclined to buy the same motorcycle if it was called a Victory, for example? If you have ti ask that question then you didn’t understand why Victory is out of business and Polaris bought Indian in the first place.

  11. Rob Harris may be turning over in his grave.

    I don’t recall ever mentioning to him that being of Irish descent “his people” had enslaved “my people” and I should see reparations; and sports teams should shop using names like Celts and “the fighting Irish”.

    I’ll leave CMG to it’s wokeness.

  12. Haha I been waiting for this one. Dustin I am going to assume that you are a white guy who does not know any actual first people, indigenous, native north americans or whatever the PC are calling our cousins who arrived on this continent before the rest of us. I will leave it to them to comment on whether Indian portrayed on the logo is offensive or a reminder of a proud people who were feared and respected when the name Indian first appeared on the motorcycle manufactured in North America in 1901. The company was called Hendee the “motocycle” was always an Indian.

  13. WOW! your comments will surely destroy/ravage that company just the cost itelf to change all the material etc. I understand your point of view, and with this now gentle view of what the world should or shoud not be allowed to do or say, you sure screwed my thought of now buying a….wait, what should I call it to be legally correct, a “FN” motorcycle? you tell me?

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