This week, the Toronto District School Board said it will be renaming jobs with the word "chief" in the title, out of a misguided gesture of respect for Canada's Indigenous peoples. Terms like chief technology officer, chief planning officer and chief of speech language pathology are now apparently a no-no.
It's hard to know where to start, so let's start here: This is bonkers. It also looks like a case of Indigenous Canadians being dragged into somebody else's conflict, and invoked to take sides in the educational system's internal cultural revolution.
The fact that the person who leads a corporation is called a "chief executive officer," or that the head of the Supreme Court is called the "chief justice," is not one of the main problems facing Indigenous Canada. It's not even on the list.
The word "chief" has its roots in the Latin word for "head" and came to English from Old French. It has the same origins as "chef" and has been part of the English language since long before first contact between Indigenous Canadians and Europeans. Like a lot of words, it's capable to being used many ways, including as an insult. But it's not per se derogatory, to anyone. There's nothing inherently, or even incidentally, offensive about it in normal use. Nobody should be triggered by its mere existence, and nobody is.
Organizations change titles all the time, for all kinds of reasons. But the suggestion that words like "chief" – or as at Massey College, "master" – are offensive and have to be struck from the language is puzzling, particularly coming from the education system. The TDSB surely hopes to demonstrate its empathy; what it is instead highlighting is the collapse of its ability to think clearly.
If Toronto's public school board wants a chief planning officer to now be known as, say, the manager of planning, it's hard to see why anyone would care. But if it's doing so out of a desire to show solidarity with Indigenous Canadians, or improve their lot in this country, it's selling falsehoods to itself, its students and all of us.
There are scores of reserves across this country still under boil-water advisories. Indigenous Canadians live shorter lives than their fellow citizens, have lower incomes, are less likely to be in school or have a job, and more likely to be in jail. These are the real issues. The problem is not that job titles like "chief financial officer" exist. The problem is that too few native Canadians occupy such jobs, and too few are in a position to do so.
That's not something that can be fixed by purging a word.