Earlier this year, Budweiser, the self-professed "King of Beers," made headlines after announcing it would be changing its name to simply "America." Now, in an ironic twist of fate, the A-B InBev-owned company is being sued by a Native American tribe for stealing its logo and slogan, Consumerist reported on Wednesday.
The trademark infringement lawsuit alleges that A-B InBev and North Carolina-based distributor R.A. Jeffreys have "irreparably injured" the local Lumbee tribe. By using the group's longstanding "heritage, pride & strength" slogan without its permission, the beer company has harmed the tribe to the point that financial compensation will not be enough. One of the largest Native American tribes in the country, the group says it finds Budweiser's transgressions especially offensive because of longstanding associations that exist between alcohol abuse and Native American communities.
"Members of the Tribe and others in the community mistakenly believed that the Lumbee Tribe gave its permission for the Tribe’s name and trademarks to be used to sell alcoholic beverages and were offended because alcohol abuse is often associated with Native American culture," a statement on the tribe's website reads. "The Lumbee Tribe did not give Anheuser-Busch or R.A. Jeffreys Distributing Company its permission to use the Lumbee Tribe’s name or trademarks. The Tribe has requested that the advertisements be removed immediately and filed the lawsuit to ensure that they are.
The beer company say it's already taken action by removing the offensive ads, and A-B InBev is placing most of the blame on its distributor.
"Our wholesalers often implement local marketing efforts on behalf of our brands," an A-B InBev spokesperson told Eater. "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."
R.A. Jeffreys offered a mea culpa, confirming that A-B InBev had no hand in the advertisements, and voicing its regrets over offending the Lumbee tribe. The distribution company claims it removed all of the materials in question on June 10, and "respects the heritage of the communities in which its customers live and work."
The appropriation of Native-American imagery has been a hotly contested issue in recent years. In 2015, the village of Whitesboro, New York came under fire for its official town seal, which depicted a white settler choking a Native American during a "friendly" wrestling match. And for years, activists have sought to force the Washington Redskins to change its name—a moniker widely believed to be a racial epithet.