The chiefs are departing from Manitoba’s Conservation Department, but in name only. Out of respect for the rank that carries a lot of weight in Aboriginal communities, the word “chief” will be removed from several of the department’s job titles. Manitoba’s deputy minister of Conservation, Fred Meier, told media that the chief of park operations would now become regional park operations supervisor, while chief natural resource officers will be given the new title of regional field supervisors. He stressed that the change is in name alone and would not affect anyone’s role.
Don’t look for First Nations communities to get too excited, though.
“I don’t see it as a major sticking point,” says Grand Chief Derek Nepinak from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. He adds that he accepts it as a gesture of respect from the government department.
The change has nonetheless stirred some debate. Winnipeg radio host Richard Cloutier asked listeners whether the word “chief” is offensive or if this change is merely the height of political correctness. After all, with chief executives, chiefs of police, fire chiefs and many other uses of the word, the title is hardly associated only with First Nations leaders.
The renaming measure was not at the request of First Nations. Meier said removing the word throughout the department has been under way since the mid-1990s to better describe job titles and that these recent changes remove the last vestiges of the word.
But while Nepinak welcomed the move, he said there are far more important issues that need addressing. “The major focus for us right now is the issue of murdered and missing women,” Nepinak says. “The question of whether Manitoba bureaucracies are using the term ‘chief’ is quite low on our radar.”