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Budweiser sued by Native American tribe in North Carolina over trademarked logo and slogan

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Budweiser has apologized for using a trademarked slogan and symbol of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina without permission. (AP)

In the wake of a pending trademark infringement lawsuit, a North Carolina-based Anheuser-Busch beer distributor has taken down advertising that angered members of the Lumbee Tribe.

On Tuesday, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina filed a federal lawsuit against Anheuser-Busch, accusing the beer giant of illegally using the tribe’s logo and its “Heritage, Pride & Strength” slogan in convenience store advertisements for Budweiser and Bud Light. 

In the complaint, filed in the Eastern District of North Carolina, attorneys for the Lumbees say Anheuser-Busch used the tribe’s logo and slogan, without permission, above beer coolers in Lumberton and Raeford, N.C.--  leaving a false impression of an affiliation between the tribe, Anheuser-Busch and the local beer distributor R.A. Jeffreys Distributing Company.

The convenience store banners are used “in a way that many members of the tribe find offensive because alcohol abuse is often associated with Native American culture,” the lawsuit states.

The trademarked Lumbee logo is a black circle divided into four equal quadrants of different colors--  yellow represents the east, red is the south, black is the west and white is the north. A Lumbee Pine Cone Patchwork surrounds the Circle of Life, representing four qualities of a balanced life – the spiritual, emotional, physical and intellectual.

On Wednesday, Lisa Derus, a spokeswoman for Anheuser-Busch, issued a statement on behalf of R.A. Jeffreys, saying the store had since removed the offending materials that contained the Lumbee logo and slogan, reports The News & Observer.

“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.”

Anheuser-Busch also issued its own apology the day after attorneys representing the Lumbee Tribe filed the suit.

“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.”

The Lumbees have approximately 55,000 enrolled members and have been recognized by the state of North Caroline since 1885.

The lawsuit contends that irreparable damage was caused to the tribe by the distributor using the banners but, as of Thursday, lawyers representing the Lumbees have not announced whether the suit will be dropped.

In a Facebook post last week, Harvey Godwin, the Lumbee tribal chairman, informed  the community that the Budweiser maker and the distributor had never been authorized to use the tribe’s symbol for advertising purposes.

“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,” Godwin posted. “As your Lumbee Tribal Chairman, I vow to make sure those responsible for this offensive ad will be held accountable.”