Canada's largest school board decided last week to remove the word "chief" from job titles to avoid offending indigenous peoples.
The Toronto District School Board—which oversees all secular, English-speaking schools in the city—is following the recommendation of its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up to document past abuses of indigenous children in Canada's former residential school system and to make recommendations to address and right any wrongs, the Canadian Press reported.
Accordingly, titles like "chief financial officer," "chief academic officer," and "chief communications officer" will be renamed, despite the use of the word "chief" in those instances not referring to indigenous Canadians.
"It may not have originated as an indigenous word, but the fact is that it is used as a slur in some cases, or in a negative way to describe indigenous people," Ryan Bird, a school board spokesman, said in an interview last Wednesday.
"With that in mind, as it has become a slur in some cases, that's the decision the administration has made to be proactive on that," he added.
Damien Lee, an assistant professor of indigenous studies at the University of Saskatchewan, told the Toronto Star that the word carries "baggage."
"It has been used as a pejorative," he said. "Some people will use it in a kind of demeaning way."
Another academic said an alternative to "chief" should be found if the term is offensive, but noted that the word's associations with First Nations, certain indigenous peoples of Canada, can be positive.
"If that usage is going to genuinely hurt a group of people, then I would say yes, by all means, let's see if we can find an alternative," said Mark Morton, who works at the University of Waterloo's Centre for Teaching Excellence and studies the origin of words. "On the other hand, the word originated outside of the context of First Nations cultures … and the First Nations associations that it has, I don't think are negative."