Toronto District School Board to remove 'chief' from job titles out of respect for Indigenous communities

The Toronto District School Board has started work to remove the word "chief" from its job titles, citing respect for Indigenous communities and the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

12 job titles will switch from 'chief' to 'manager,' though Indigenous community didn't request the change

Duke Redbird, the TDSB's curator of Indigenous art and culture, says the word 'chief' can be used as a pejorative term. (Martin Trainor/ CBC )

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) will stop using the word "chief" in job titles, citing respect for Indigenous communities.

The TDSB said the decision was inspired by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's (TRC) final report, though the change is also part of a larger initiative to rename titles within the board.

While the TRC report did not explicitly call for the removal of titles such as chief from non-Indigenous applications, it did call for improvements to education, language and culture.

As a result, 12 TDSB staff formerly designated as chiefs will now be called managers. For example, the board's chief of social work will now be the manager of social work.

"We're very happy that the change was made," said Duke Redbird, the TDSB's curator of Indigenous arts and culture.

While Redbird is welcoming the shift, he said the Indigenous community did not request the change.

"In this case, the TSDB on their own merit took it upon themselves to change the designation of these roles," he said. "I'm not sure that chief describes what a person actually does."

'Chief' a potential micro-aggression

While Redbird said he doesn't envision a dramatic impact from the change, he said it may help reduce derogatory use of the word.

"The word chief has been used in a pejorative way to identify any Indigenous person," he said, adding calling someone chief is often deployed as a form of micro-aggression.

And though the word has been turned into an occasional racial epithet, "chief" has no actual connection to Indigenous culture or language.

"We never used the word — it was an imposed word that the government introduced with the Indian Act back in the 1800s," Redbird said.

Indeed, according to Merriam-Webster, "chief" was first used in Middle English sometime in the 15th century. Its etymological origins traced back to the Latin word "caput," meaning head.

"It has nothing to do with our tradition," Redbird said.

The TDSB said the change is underway, but is not yet complete.