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Commission Launches to Redesign MA Seal, Motto

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Although still present at the Massachusetts State House, city council buildings in some municipalities have opted to remove the state flag, a symbol that many have sought to update for more than 30 years. (Jen Lobo/Adobe Stock)
Although still present at the Massachusetts State House, city council buildings in some municipalities have opted to remove the state flag, a symbol that many have sought to update for more than 30 years. (Jen Lobo/Adobe Stock)
January 20, 2021

BOSTON - Native American leaders in Massachusetts are coming together to study and recommend changes to the state's seal, flag and motto.

It's part of a new law establishing a commission to re-examine these symbols. The state seal, pictured on the flag, currently features a Native person and the severed arm of a white person, ostensibly a colonial settler.

Jean-Luc Pierite, board president at the North American Indian Center of Boston, said the person's clothes and weapon are styled after violent events between Natives and settlers. The motto is in Latin, but Pierite said it translates roughly to, "We seek peace, but by the sword."

"There's a lot of colonial violence that's coded within that imagery," he said, "and so the purpose of the bill is not necessarily to relitigate that history but to take this opportunity to forge a new symbol."

Pierite noted that Native communities in the Commonwealth have advocated for this change for the last 35 years. He said the commission will have five lineal descendants of historical tribes, as well as five designees chosen by the governor who have cultural and historical knowledge of the seal itself.

Pierite said the recent momentum was built, in part, in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last summer. He said challenges to the social structures that reinforce racism have led to some city council buildings, including in Cambridge, opting to remove the state flag from their chambers, and many schools taking down their Native mascots.

"We're seeing a lot of political pressure coming from the grassroots and from municipal governments towards this change, and this recognition of this settler colonial history," he said.

He said his group is working to get a bill onto the legislative agenda this session to prohibit Native mascots. In addition to reckoning with the past, he added, it's crucial to address the current racial disparities exacerbated by the pandemic.

Lily Bohlke, Public News Service - MA