Issue of the day: US controversy as the word 'chief' faces being banned

The San Francisco Unified School District has decided to stop using the term 'chief', sparking debate in the United States
The San Francisco Unified School District has decided to stop using the term 'chief', sparking debate in the United States

THE term ‘chief’ is no longer to be used in relation to swathes of jobs in parts of America because of concerns it is offensive to Native Americans.



It is a word we are well accustomed to that has become part of common parlance, defined by the dictionary as “a leader of people”. The White House has a Chief of Staff, for example, and there are Chief Medical Officers in Britain too, and while big companies have Chief Executive Officers, the UK also has a Chief of the Defence Staff and so on.



The San Francisco Unified School District released an administrative decision on Wednesday, announcing that across its 10,000 employees, a decision has been made to “retire” the word “chief”.



In essence, to avoid the word’s links with Native Americans. Spokesperson Gentle Blythe, told the San Francisco Chronicle: “While there are many opinions on the matter, our leadership team agreed that, given that Native American members of our community have expressed concerns over the use of the title, we are no longer going to use it.”


What is to be used instead?

The school authority has not put forward a suitable replacement as of yet, but Ms Blythe said the removal of “chief” was not a demotion, adding: “By changing how we refer to our division heads we are in no way diminishing the indispensable contributions of our district central service leaders.”


Has it happened before?

In summer 2020, officials in the city of Duluth in Minnesota in the US voted to ban "chief" from job titles amid concerns it was offensive to Native Americans, saying they planned to call the city’s "chief administrative officer" the "city administrator" and the "chief financial officer" the "finance director"


So it is a controversial word in the US?

It is now, but its origins are not American. “Chief” is an English word taken from an Old French word (chef) which meant “leader” and itself was derived from the Latin “capus” to mean “captain” or “chieftain”.


Is the move supported?

Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, an American conservative activist group, tweeted that the decision was taken by “Marxist ignoramuses”. Michael Seifert, founder of online community PublicSq, tweeted: "With all of the problems in San Francisco (rampant drug addiction, mass homelessness, political corruption etc) their leaders decide to focus on banning the use of the word ‘chief'." Author Adam Bray also tweeted: "The word "chief" is even French, from Latin. It has no exclusive relationship to Native American culture or history. It's been used to describe leaders in cultures the world-round for centuries. The dolts in San Francisco have no business being in charge of education."


It comes as…

…In 2020, owners of the Washington Redskins changed its name to “Football Team” after decades of criticism for using the term which has been used in America as a racial slur against Native Americans and removed its logo that had featured the fave of a Native American from its tops and branding. In February of this year, they rebranded as the Washington Commanders.