Minnesota Mayor pushes to remove “chief” from job titles, calling it offensive to indigenous people

Minnesota Mayor Emily Larson want the word “chief” removed from job titles

Larson tweeted Thursday:

In we see & understand that language matters. We’re changing our charter. Because leadership requires us to be about who we are now and who we are capable of becoming

Star Tribune reports city leaders are making a push to remove the word “chief” from job titles, calling the term offensive to indigenous people.

At a news conference Wednesday, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson implored City Council members to vote to approve the change next week “so that we have more inclusive leadership and less language that is rooted in hurt and offensive, intentional marginalization.”

The measure, slated to go before the council Monday night, would change Chief Administrative Officer Noah Schuchman’s title to city administrator and Chief Financial Officer Wayne Parson’s title to finance director.
“I think that there are other titles that we have the opportunity to use to steer away from language that may put people down based off their race or culture,” said Alicia Kozlowski, Duluth’s community relations officer and member of the Grand Portage and Fond du Lac Bands of Lake Superior Chippewa.

Kozlowski said “chief” is used as “a racial epithet, and it turns into a microaggression.” She added that the city is trying to be proactive by addressing the issue before residents ask.

The discussion echoes ongoing controversies over sport team names like the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians, which indigenous groups have protested since the 1960s. During their playoff run earlier this year, the Kansas City Chiefs — now the defending Super Bowl champions — drew criticism from groups who called the name and the popular “tomahawk chop” cheer offensive.

Larson said the city is also considering changing the titles of Duluth’s police and fire chiefs, though that won’t be decided at Monday’s meeting. The term is used by professional law enforcement associations and to refer to those in comparable public safety roles elsewhere, which makes finding a suitable replacement more challenging — though Larson said Police Chief Mike Tusken and Fire Chief Shawn Krizaj are open to conversations about such efforts.

A spokesperson for the League of Minnesota Cities said he isn’t aware of any other municipalities in the state weighing similar proposals.

The move is part of a larger charge to tweak Duluth’s charter to make language “more inclusive, more reflective, more accurate and more modern,” said Larson, who was elected the city’s first female mayor in 2015.

Nodding to ongoing efforts spurred by the City Council, she said the municipality’s legal foundation should also include “gender-neutral language to better reflect that the mayor is not always going to be a man.”

On Monday evening, the City Council will also vote on a separate measure revising the statement that was published with its new flag design last August.

Duluth officials said Wednesday that feedback showed community members felt the statement was not inclusive enough, so city staff partnered with the local branch of the NAACP to add a line proclaiming the flag a symbol of “commitment to equality and inclusiveness” and an embrace of “the word Umoja, an African principle meaning unity of family, community, nation and our unique ancestries.”