Commission Recommends Change to Massachusetts State Seal, MottoBreaking News
tags: Massachusetts, Native American history, public history
For more than a century, the Massachusetts state seal has stood sentry at official proceedings, dutifully, if a bit dully, serving as the sole adornment on the state flag.
Some might struggle to recall the emblem, which includes a Native American figure standing below a broadsword brandished by an upraised arm, but activists and members of the state’s Indigenous population have long objected to the image, which one critic called the “last state flag of white supremacy.”
“We’ve always referred to it as a sword of Damocles,” said Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairwoman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah). “These are generational fights.”
They’ve also taken on new urgency. In May, amid the ongoing national struggle over historical monuments and symbols, a special commission voted to recommend replacing the state’s seal and motto — and by extension the state flag — a dramatic turning point for a symbol whose roots stretch back to 1629 and the chartering of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
“It is a long time coming,” said Andrews-Maltais, a member of the Special Commission on the Official Seal and Motto of the Commonwealth, which was established last year by the Legislature. “We’d like to see it transformed.”
But the volunteer commission’s unanimous vote masks sharp divisions among its 19 members, some of whom worry the recommendation constitutes historical myopia.
“This is the flag that crushed the Confederacy, and now to say that it’s a racist symbol — I’m not buying it,” said retired Brigadier General Leonid Kondratiuk. “Seventeen-thousand Massachusetts soldiers died fighting under that flag.”
Meanwhile, John Peters Jr., executive director of the state’s Commission on Indian Affairs, says he quickly regretted his vote.
“I was kicking myself,” said Peters, who voted in part to honor his late father, who first sought to establish a commission some 40 years ago. “When I look at that flag, it’s like a true depiction of what happened to the Native people here,” he continued. Changing the seal “gives the Commonwealth an opportunity to forget about that history.”
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