The San Francisco Unified School District has announced that it will no longer use the word “chief” with its job titles out of respect for the Native American community.
Prior to making this determination, the SFUSD says it discussed alternative measures with roughly 10,000 district employees, including those with Native American descent.
At this time, a single word won’t serve as the replacement for “chief” with job vacancies or titles.
This week’s move has precedent. In 2017, a school district in Ontario, Canada invoked a similar replacement measure, as a “proactive step towards reconciliation.”
Around that time, Chief Dr. Robert Joseph wrote the following for the Indigenous Corporate Training, Inc. site.
“What I found interesting is that the articles I read on the topic overlooked an obvious aspect that should have arisen as part of the discussion,” Joseph said. “Namely that ‘chief’ is a European title. As explained in the definition above, the term was applied to American Indians. It is not an Indigenous word.”
The term “chief” refers to the leader of a group, and it was reportedly used by North American and European settlers to describe the leaders of the Indigenous communities they encountered.
“But native Americans did not originally speak English. They had/have their own languages. ‘Chief’ is an English word,” one Twitter user wrote.
Twitter user Leul Lakew agreed: “The sheer incompetence shown by the San Francisco Unified School District — an edu institution is appalling.
“Chief is an English word of French etymological origin. Even if it was a Native American word, removing it from our lexicon will erase Native American impact on English.”
Twitter user Marcel Dumas said: “Purging your language of all loan words from a conquered and near-extinct people in the name of anti-racism. Next, purging all Anglo-Saxon terms until we exclusively speak some sort of weird French-Danish blend.”
The removal of Native American-affiliated nicknames within American professional sports has become a recent trend.
Three years ago, the Washington Redskins dropped its team name. Founded in 1932 as the Boston Braves, the team changed its name to the Boston Redskins in 1933. When the team moved to Washington in 1937, it became known as the Washington Redskins — the name the it bore until 2019. In February, the team settled on the “Washington Commanders” as its new name. In the interim, it bore the moniker the “Washington Football Team.”
And in November 2021, the Cleveland Indians baseball club officially switched its name to the “Guardians.”
Last year, the U.S. Department of Interior launched a group known as the “Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force” to identify federal lands that potentially contain slurs or derogatory names, with the intent of renaming the facilities or areas.
That process will include establishing dialogue with tribes, state and local governments, and the public at large.
For example, the DOI said it would be reclassifying the term “squaw” — referring to an Indigenous woman — as derogatory.
According to the Native Rights Fund, there are roughly 600 federal land units in America with the name “squaw.”