This week, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina filed a suit against Anheuser-Busch and its distributor for using the tribe’s official logo and slogan in a local marketing campaign for beer. These ads prominently featured images of a tribal dancer, the tribe’s logo, and the tribe’s slogan — “Heritage, Pride & Strength” — above coolers of Budweiser and Bud Light.
The Lumbee Tribe’s logo is a circle divided into quadrants to represent the four directions and the four qualities of a balanced life: the spiritual, the emotional, the physical, and the intellectual. This imagery is “symbolic of the Circle of Life and emphasizes the importance of each Lumbee being a whole person,” according to a recent lawsuit.
The complaint argues the ads “created a significant amount of actual confusion in the community, including in the minds of some members of the Lumbee Tribe,” and that “many members of the tribe find [the ads] offensive because alcohol abuse is often associated with Native American culture.”
The tribe chose to pursue legal action against Anheuser-Busch and the distributer — R.A. Jeffreys — after other efforts to resolve the matter failed.
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As reported in The Robesonian, R.A. Jeffreys claims the ads were created to honor “the rich heritage of the Lumbee Tribe.” However, after they discovered that the tribe opposed the ads, R.A. Jeffreys says they immediately took them down.
“R.A. Jeffreys regrets any offense that may have been taken to the use of the materials in which the Lumbee Tribe claims an interest, and R.A. Jeffreys will not make any further use of such materials unless specifically permitted to do so by the Lumbee Tribe. R.A. Jeffreys values and respects the heritage of the communities in which its customers live and work,” the company said in a statement.
Notably, however, R.A. Jeffreys did not explicitly apologize for the ad.
“Our wholesalers often implement local marketing efforts on behalf of our brands. The wholesaler responsible for these signs removed them shortly after a complaint was brought to its attention, and has since expressed its regrets. Anheuser-Busch respects the Lumbee Tribe and likewise regrets that this occurred,” Anheuser-Busch said.
The Lumbee Tribe seeks that the distributor stop using the Lumbee logo and slogan in their marketing campaign, and that the tribe receive all the profits the company made through the use of the tribe’s imagery.
With 55,000 members
, the Lumbee Tribe is the largest Native American tribe east of the Mississippi River. They have used their logo commercially since 2004, and their slogan since 2015. Both are used in “all aspects of [the tribe’s] operations and services.”
According to the complaint, “Unless enjoined by this Court, Defendants’ conduct will continue to result in a likelihood of consumer confusion and irreparable injury to the Lumbee Tribe.”
“Many members of the tribe find [the ads] offensive because alcohol abuse is often associated with Native American culture.”
This isn’t the first time, however, a Native American tribe has sued a corporation over trademark infringement.
In 2012, the Navajo Nation filed a lawsuit against Urban Outfitters for the use of the Navajo name and motifs without permission, and so conveyed “a false association or affiliation with the Navajo Nation, and to unfairly trade off of the fame, reputation, and goodwill of the Navajo Nation’s name and trademarks,” as well as deprived the tribe of millions of dollars in profit.
The Lumbee Tribe is doubtless hopeful for a better outcome in their case.
“I vow to make sure those responsible for this offensive ad will be held accountable,” Lumbee Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin, Jr. wrote in a Facebook post.
Rachel Cain is an intern at ThinkProgress.