‘We’re not mascots’: Local lawyer sues New York company over Yakama-brand cigarettes

‘We’re not mascots’: Local lawyer sues New York company over Yakama-brand cigarettes

A New York company has reportedly been making cigarettes sporting the name of the Yakama tribe and selling them to customers on and off East Coast tribal reservations.

Now, Jacobs Tobacco Company is the subject of a federal trademark infringement lawsuit filed by Jack Fiander, a lawyer and enrolled member of the Yakama Nation.

“A name is our identity,” Fiander said. “We are Yakama and that was taken without permission and used on a commercial product.”

Fiander, whose tribal name is Toobshudud, says Yakama is federally trademarked. He says in order for that name to be used on a commercial product like cigarettes, a company would have to get explicit permission from tribal officials.

“If you took the Disney name ‘Disney’ and put it on a product without permission, the Disney legal team would be on you mercilessly,” Fiander said. He says this case is no different.

By using the Yakama name, Fiander argues, the Akwasasne, N.Y.-based company deceives consumers into thinking that his tribe is either making the actual cigarettes or is supporting the manufacturing of those cigarettes.

“I think it’s offensive,” Fiander said. “As tribal people, we’re not mascots.”

4 News Now’s partner KAPP-KVEW’s attempts to reach Jacobs Tobacco Company on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Fiander says he doesn’t know how long the Yakama cigarettes have been in production. He says he only learned about it when a friend from New York sent him a picture of the box.

“It’s concerning that its being sold clear across the united states where we might never have learned about it,” Fiander said.

In the lawsuit, Fiander is asking the court to order the company to cease all production and destroy all products carrying the Yakama name.

“It has to be addressed,” Fiander said. “If it’s not addressed, the next thing is we’ll be a bottle of beer, just like Crazy Horse beer from years ago.”

In that case, the descendants of the Lakota leader Crazy Horse fought a years-long legal battle to get the chief’s name taken off a widely-distributed malt liquor.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington; Fiander says the filing coinciding with Indigenous Peoples Day was a coincidence.