Massachusetts Senate Votes Unanimously to Change the Flag and Seal

On Tuesday, July 28, the MASSACHUSETTS SENATE VOTED Unanimously to CHANGE the STATE FLAG AND SEAL!

Now the House Must Act and the Rest of the MA Indigenous Agenda Must Follow (S.247 / H.443 and S.1811/H.2948)

It’s Time to Address Racial Justice for Native Americans: Change the Flag and Seal, Ban the Use of Native Sports Mascots, and Protect Tribal Heritage NOW!

We need to hold our legislators accountable. Don’t Leave Massachusetts Behind in Removing Symbols of White Supremacy

BOSTON – Today, a broad statewide coalition of racial justice organizations backing the Mass Indigenous Legislative Agenda applauds the Massachusetts Senate for voting unanimously to establish a special commission to change the State Flag and Seal of Massachusetts. A white hand holding a colonial sword over the head of a Native person is a terrible and racist symbol that has no place representing our state. We call on the State House of Representatives to immediately pass the bill (S.1877/H.2776), and remove the overtly white supremacist Flag and Seal of Massachusetts.

This is just a first step. Racist symbols of white supremacy over Native people should not be permitted in our public school systems, either. We call on both chambers of the Legislature to pass, and the Governor to subsequently sign, a Ban on the Use of Native Mascots in Public Schools in the Commonwealth (S.247 / H.443). In addition, as seen in the case of the Northampton roundabout, tribal heritage must be protected; an Act to Protect Native American Heritage (S.1811/H.2948) must be passed into law.

“There is a tidal wave of justice rolling across the land, and it is about to crash into Massachusetts. – Sen. Joanne Comerford; Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district.

According to Mahtowin Munro from United American Indians of New England and the Massachusetts Indigenous Legislative Agenda, “Four hundred years after the arrival of the Pilgrims from Europe, any authentic efforts to address racial injustice need to include and respect the voices of Indigenous people and ensure that Native American concerns are addressed. Supporting this legislation should be a bipartisan effort to begin to listen to Indigenous voices statewide and take first steps toward repairing relationships with Native Americans.”

Putting the need for the legislation into a broader context, Jean-Luc Pierite, president of the Board of the North American Indian Center of Boston, a statewide Native American community organization based in Jamaica Plain, noted “What COVID-19 and #BlackLivesMatter demonstrate in plain terms is that our current social systems need structural and foundational change. Symbols from flags, mascots, and names on public places to the design of infrastructure like roads and pipelines are the branding of the extraction of resources, wealth, and labor from BIPOC peoples. To change the system is to change the branding. These are not mutually exclusive, unless we are simply appeasing the electorate or window dressing.”

Flag, Seal and Motto Bill:

Now that Mississippi has decided to retire its Confederate state flag, Massachusetts is the last state in the country still flying an overt flag of white supremacy.  It features a Colonial broadsword held in a white hand over the head of a composite “Ideal Native American,” and its Latin motto begins, “By the sword we seek peace…” After 35 years of continuously stalling the passage of the legislation, there is no excuse to leave this bill behind. In city council hearings and annual town meetings from Provincetown to the Berkshires, over ten percent of cities and towns in Massachusetts (39) have already weighed in to support S.1877 / H.2776, and their resolve is clear: On this 400th anniversary year of the Pilgrim landing, the time has come at last to change the Massachusetts flag and seal.

Native Voices in Support of S.1877 / H.2776:

“The arm and the sword on the Massachusetts state flag and seal were modeled on Myles Standish. Myles Standish…  (in 1623)… called Native people together for a meeting in Wessagussett and then murdered them. How can people think this is a worthy symbol of Massachusetts? It’s time to move forward, and look at these old symbols and say, ‘OK – that’s got to change.’ Do we not want the Commonwealth to stand for something better now? Do you want to say that Massachusetts is all about subjugating the original inhabitants of the land? Or do you want to talk about the beauty of the land – the cod, the cranberry and the corn?” -Amalia Four Hawks, Florence

“It’s not just the symbolism of white power over Native people. But the English chopped off King Phillip’s head. They put it on a pike and they displayed it in the center of Plimoth. It’s not just a metaphor. We’ve lived under that sword for a long time. That’s why it’s so important to change that flag. It’s a constant daily reminder of the history of what we’ve lived under as Wampanoag people here in our homeland.” -Hartman Deetz, Mashpee Wampanoag

“When you have a Native person standing there, arrow down, and you say, ‘Oh that’s a sign of peace – or defeat or subservience, depending on how you want to look at it – and there’s a sword threatening this person, over his head: that says, ‘Oh, the Natives are defeated, you can treat them however you want.’Violence against Native people in the United States has always been high. There are more Native women that are missing and murdered or abused than any other group of people. If we’re going to say we’re better than that, we have to take steps to act on that. This is a Commonwealth, and it’s supposed to be about all the people who live here, not presenting the idea of destruction of one people over another. Massachusetts should be at the forefront of Native education, of Native issues, of understanding the relationship of Native and non-Native people. It would be so simple to say, we shouldn’t have that. We’ve been able to change state seals in the past. The American flag has changed, plenty of times, so why should this be any different?”-Justin Beatty, Hadley – Drum Keeper of Urban Thunder

Ban the Use of Native Mascots in Massachusetts Public Schools (S.247 / H.443)

Earlier this month, the National Congress of American Indians, “the oldest, largest, and most representative national organization representing tribal nations and peoples,” wrote in support of S.247 / H.443). According to their statement, Ian Record, Ph.D, Vice President, Tribal Governance and Special Projects of the National Congress of American Indians said, “has been leading Indian Country’s movement to eradicate offensive Native “themed” mascots from sports and popular culture for the past fifty years. A national congress of tribal nations, it has passed numerous consensus-based resolutions declaring Indian Country’s unified opposition to these mascots, dating back more than 50 years. As a resolution passed by NCAI’s membership in 2005 explains, “the use of ‘Native American’ sports mascots, logos, or symbols perpetuates stereotypes of American Indians that are very harmful. The ‘warrior savage’ myth has plagued this country’s relationships with the Indian people, as it reinforces the racist view that Indians are uncivilized and uneducated and it has been used to justify policies of forced assimilation and destruction of Indian culture.”- Ian Record, PhD. Vice President, Tribal Governance and Special Projects, National Congress of American Indians.

Now that the Washington NFL team has finally come to terms with it’s racist mascot, and now that our neighboring state of Maine has voted to ban all use of Native sports mascots in their public schools, we call on our lawmakers not to let Massachusetts be left behind, still clinging to the harmful, racist stereotypes of Native sports mascots in the educational settings of our public schools.

Five Tribal nations in Massachusetts are supporting the call for a prohibition on all Native American sport team mascots, nicknames, and logos still in use in nearly 40 Massachusetts public schools.

Alma Gordon, of the Chappaquiddick Wampanoag Tribe says, in reference to the continued use of Native sports mascots in public schools, “A state law to address the problem… is necessary because many communities in Massachusetts resist calls to eliminate the Native American nicknames and logos used by their schools. We have students attending school in a number of counties in Massachusetts. Any time a school sports team plays a game against a school with an offensive mascot, they experience demoralizing racial prejudice. Native American mascots in sport are not educationally sound for Native American and non-indigenous youth.”

Heritage Bill:

Native American advocates and allies are also seeking passage of “An Act to Protect Native American Heritage”. This bill would refine Native Americans Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) enforcement to include all publicly funded entities in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. If passed into law, this would further ensure the repatriation of sacred and funerary objects to the tribal communities of origin as well as deter auction houses from being able to obtain such items.  As Chairwoman Cheryl Andrews-Malthais of Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) testified in 2016, “Tribal cultural heritage belongs to the tribal community of its origin as a whole. And by tribal custom, cannot be alienated from that community by any individual or group without the expressed free, prior, and informed consent of that tribe.”

Contact your legislators!

We ask everyone in Massachusetts who believes in racial justice, and the need to follow the leadership of Native people, to contact your legislators and urge them to pass: The Resolve Providing for the Creation of a Special Commission Relative to the Seal and Motto of the Commonwealth S.1877 / H.2776, An Act Prohibiting the Use of Native American Mascots by Public Schools in the Commonwealth S.247 / H.443, An Act to Protect Native American Heritage S.1811 / H.2948. – TODAY!

To send an email in support of all three bills, go to MaIndigenousAgenda.org ChangetheMaFlag.com

North American Indian Center of Boston

United American Indians of New England

MA Indigenous Legislative Agenda

Massachusetts Peace Action

MA Mascot Coalition

ChangetheMassFlag.com

Network for Social Justice, Racial Justice Provincetown, Traprock Center for Peace and Justice,

New England Peace Pagoda, Manos Unidas Multicultural Educational Cooperative, and many other co-sponsoring organizations

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