Council tables proposal to remove 'chief' from title of administrative officer to avoid offending Indigenous people

Councilor Derek Medved questioned whether the term was truly offensive.

Duluth Chief Administrative Officer Noah Schuchman will now be known as a city administrator, following a charter change approved by the Duluth City Council Monday. (2020 File / News Tribune)

Noah Schuchman had been expected to receive a title change Monday, courtesy of the Duluth City Council. If councilors had approved the proposal he would no longer be known as Duluth's chief administrative officer but would instead be called city administrator.

But the council tabled an ordinance that would amend the city charter so as to eliminate "chief" from Shuchman's title, following the lead of Mayor Emily Larson, who also plans to shorten Chief Financial Officer Wayne Parson's title to finance director.

Larson explained her desire to see "chief" removed from city titles last week, saying: "It is language that is offensive to people who are Indigenous and actually offensive to a lot of people, especially when there is other language available."

Alicia Kozlowski, a community relations officer for the city who is also a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, said, "Oftentimes the word 'chief' is used as, I would say, a racial epithet, and it turns into a microaggression."

But at large Councilor Derek Medved, who serves as CEO of a chain of convenience stores, questioned the assertion that "chief" is an offensive term. He suggested the discussion about job titles was a needless distraction, and said, "I ran my campaign on going back to basics."


Unless the proposed charter change were tabled, Medved threatened to vote against it. Any charter change can be enacted by the council only through a unanimous vote.

At large Councilor Arik Forsman said the proposed title change for Schuchman seemed modest and said he was inclined to support it. However, he was cooler to the idea of going further, saying he would not agree to do away with the titles of the police and fire chiefs.

Schuchman offered to write a more narrowly focused statement of purpose for the proposed charter change before returning it to the council for consideration.

But 4th District Councilor Renee Van Nett, who is of Indigenous heritage, expressed disappointment.

"When someone calls me chief, yeah that is bad you guys, and that happens," she said. "That language has been used against us, and it's hurtful. That's the crux around this discussion."

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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