R.A. Jeffreys, a Raleigh, NC-based distributor for Anheuser-Busch brewers, has pulled a series of regional advertisements for the company's Budweiser and Bud Light beer lines after complaints from a local Native American tribe.
According to the civil action filed in U.S. District Court last week, the Lumbee tribe is seeking injunctive relief and damages from both Anheuser-Busch and R.A. Jeffreys, for having created "the false impression in the minds of the public that the Lumbee Tribe has approved of Defendants’ use of the LUMBEE TRIBE Marks and, by extension, of Defendants’ alcoholic beverage products."
R.A. Jeffreys claims the ads, which feature the Lumbee "Heritage, Pride & Strength" slogan, as well as the tribe's circular logo, were created without the knowledge of Anheuser-Busch. They were subsequently pulled from stores on June 9th, just before the Lumbee Tribe filed their lawsuit, the Robesonian reported.
"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," the company said in an apology statement. "R.A. Jeffreys values and respects the heritage of the communities in which its customers live and work."
According to the lawsuit, however, the association between the Lumbee Tribe and beer is a particularly damaging one, as it plays into the pernicious history of alcoholism within Native communities. Per the suit:
Defendants’ infringing uses of the LUMBEE TRIBE Marks has created a significant amount of actual confusion in the community, including in the minds of some members of the Lumbee Tribe, and in the minds of consumers who mistakenly believe that the Lumbee Tribe has given Defendants permission to use the LUMBEE TRIBE Marks in a way that many members of the tribe find offensive because alcohol abuse is often associated with Native American culture.
That sentiment was echoed by Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin, who wrote on the Lumbee Tribe's website:
As alcohol and drug abuse are often associated with Native American culture, the use of the Lumbee tribal brand and an image of a Native American dancer in an advertisement promoting an alcohol product is viewed as particularly offensive to Lumbee People.
The Lumbee Tribe states in its lawsuit that North Carolina has recognized it as an American Indian Tribe since 1885. Its tribal logo has been used commercially since 2004, and their slogan used commercially since 2015.
Given Budweiser's recent, temporary rebranding as "America," it's hard, then, not to see this episode as particularly illustrative of the struggles Native Americans have faced for hundreds of years when it comes to protecting their rights and preserving their heritage in this country.