Playing the Indian Card

Friday, October 13, 2017


The Toronto School Board, we read, has banned the term “chief” in its organizational charts. The reason is that it refers to First Nations people.

It does not, of course. Oxford gives the first meaning as “A leader or ruler of a people or clan.”

This, however, would not be how the Toronto School Board organizational chart would be using it. For them, it would be Oxford’s meaning two: “The head of an organization.”

Nothing to do with Canadian First Nations.

A school board spokesperson explains, “every Aboriginal person has been referred to as ‘chief’ in a derogatory way at some point in his or her life.”

Is chief in such a context an insult? Oxford goes on to give a third definition for such use in informal address: “An informal form of address to a man, especially one of superior rank or status. ‘it's quite simple, chief.’”

In other words, even in informal use, it suggests superior status. Was it demeaning when folks used to refer to Diefenbaker as “Dief the Chief”? Or in the old “Get Smart” TV show, when the leader of the spy organization was always referred to as chief? Does one normally insult one’s boss?

What does it mean, then, if even a strong compliment is considered insulting if it might, even remotely, imply that you are of aboriginal heritage?

Isn’t this the most extreme racism?

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