Yeti Cycles has long built its brand around the idea of a ‘tribe.’ The Colorado-based brand uses the word to depict the collective of riders so dedicated to its brand that they plan their annual vacations around global get togethers of fellow Yeti owners, called Yeti Tribe Gatherings.
Bike has been to Yeti’s gatherings over the years, we’ve covered them in our magazine and on our website. We’ve joined in the merriment of riding beautiful alpine singletrack by day, and camping alongside a couple hundred of our new closest friends by night. Like many with the privilege to attend such events and not realize the broader implications, we haven’t given the marketing behind them much thought—we just know it’s a weekend of good times organized by a brand whose community feels authentic in its passion for riding.
And that’s the problem Renee Hutchens is trying to change with the “NotYourTribe” Change.org petition she launched with two other organizations on Monday.
The petition asks Yeti to refrain from using the word in its marketing materials because it dismisses the long and violent history of colonization that Indigenous people faced, and continue to face, in the U.S.
“Although the origins of the term ‘Tribe’ come from European colonization and dehumanization of non-European societies, in the United States, the term ‘Tribe’ is inherently linked to the genocide committed by the United States against the Indigenous communities who pre-date the existence of this country,” the petition states. “Tribes have survived hundreds of years of violence and systematic erasure. Therefore, when non-Indigenous people use the term ‘Tribe’ to describe a group of people with a common interest, it belittles the history, experience, and unique status of the Tribal Nations in the United States and contributes to the exotification, cultural appropriation, and cultural erasure of tribal nations.”
“…Further, companies like Yeti Cycles who profit from the use of the term ‘Tribe’ as a trend are benefiting from the use of an identity that actual Tribal members have been, and continue to be, systematically oppressed and killed for.”
Hutchens, who’s Diné (Navajo), an ambassador for Patagonia and a coach for the Vida MTB Series (which Yeti sponsors), released the petition collectively with Pedal 2 the People and Cyclista Zine, two of the strongest voices in anti-racism work and the push for equal representation of Black, Indigenous and People of Color in cycling. The two groups were integral in the recent campaign to rename the DK gravel race and have been pressuring Trek to cancel its police contracts in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
For her part, Hutchens has been pressing for this change for several years, speaking often to athletes and employees she knows within Yeti’s ranks. She sent a formal letter a year ago, and last week, she emailed a more personal version of the Change.org petition asking the company to reconsider its branding.
Yeti president Chris Conroy issued a statement on Monday acknowledging the petition, and also reached out to Hutchens personally to speak further about her concerns, the first time she’s heard from the company throughout her efforts.
“The concerns about the use of the term ‘Tribe’ are valid,” Conroy said. “Yeti Cycles has used the term to describe our community of mountain bikers for 30+ years and we haven’t given much thought about it being offensive. We don’t want to offend Indigenous people and are open to learning more.”
Although Yeti is certainly the most high-profile brand in this conversation, the issue is pervasive within mountain biking. Hutchens recently asked Handup to stop marketing its Savage glove, which the company did, though they didn’t address the move publicly.
Many times, her inquiries and general conversations about this topic are met with dismissal, repeated questions and combativeness, which is why she spent hours writing the petition to include a significant focus on education, in hopes of helping people clearly see the toxicity deeply embedded within such words. It’s not easy putting herself out there—the negative feedback takes a toll mentally—but she pulls strength, power and resilience from her ancestors who suffered through violence and systematic erasure.
“When someone says ‘tribe,’ it’s the complete violent history,” she says. “You don’t experience the historical trauma that I hold. At times, it feels depressing. It feels painful to hold that, to feel that.”
Hutchens plans to speak with Yeti, but her bigger goal is education and ultimately inclusion, so mountain biking feels like a sport for everyone not just the privileged few. Find the entire petition HERE.
A popular petition shed light on a practice that deserved a second look