The Newburyport City Council voted 7-3 on Monday, March 13th to call for a redesign of the Massachusetts flag and seal, making the community the 57th in Massachusetts to support changing an image that many, including Native American leaders throughout the Commonwealth, have called racist, violent, and degrading. There was one abstention.
In coming weeks, at least 22 more Massachusetts cities and towns are planning to vote on similar resolutions reflecting the December, 2022 findings of a special commission calling on Massachusetts to “dedicate more resources to educating the public about the history and cultures of Massachusetts, in particular: the Indigenous history and cultures of Massachusetts, the history and usages of the current seal and motto, and the harm inflicted by the current seal and motto, and the efforts to change the seal and motto.”
The 19-member Special Commission on the Official Flag and Seal of the Commonwealth, established by a unanimous vote of the legislature and appointed by former governor Charles Baker in 2021, includes state legislators, historians, and a designee of the Secretary of State, as well as members of the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag, Mashpee Wampanoag, Aquinnah Wampanoag, Herring Pond Wampanoag and Hassanamisco Nipmuc tribes, along with Jim Peters, director of the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs.
Funding for the Special Commission to conduct public polling and to commission artwork to represent new design elements for a revised flag and seal was approved as part of the Economic Development Bill signed by former governor Baker in November 2022.
For an overview of the effort to change the flag and seal with Indigenous members of the Special Commission Elizabeth Solomon of the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag and Brittney Walley of the Hassanamisco Nipmuc Tribe, who will be joined by David Detmold of Changethemassflag.com to speak with the Partnership of Historic Bostons on this topic on Monday, March 20th at 7 p.m., please use the following link: sign up for our next online discussion .
Greenfield resident Wesley Blixt of changethemassflag.com praised the Newburyport vote, saying “This is an opportunity for the City of Newburyport, the smaller towns around Newburyport, and for the General Court to simply do the right thing. It’s something that we’ve been called on to do for quite some time. There is no price to pay, for this. Whatever price there is has been paid by our Native American brothers and sisters for centuries.”
Of the 59 communities that have taken up the Change the Flag and Seal issue, only Rowley and Harwich have turned it down, while the change continues to show broad support. Twenty-four of the 26 towns in Franklin County have weighed in, and all have voted for the change.
At the January, 2022 meeting of the Special Commission, Mashpee Wampanoag Chairman Brian Weeden told his colleagues, “The current seal is a reminder of the oppression of Native Americans, an offensive design of arm and sword over the Native American.”
The original Massachusetts Bay Colony seal from 1629 depicted an Indigenous person wearing a loincloth of leaves and calling out: “Come over and help us.” He holds one downward arrow and wears no quiver.
In 1898, the legislature adopted a version by illustrator Edmund Garret that shows, among other things, an Indigenous man dominated by a broadsword modeled after that of Myles Standish, the military commander known for his ambush and killing of native people. Facial and bodily features were borrowed from a variety of sources, including an Indigenous skeleton unearthed in Winthrop. It also depicts a red flannel sash said to have been taken from the body of the 17th century Indigenous leader Metacomet (King Philip) before his head was impaled on the stockade at Plymouth for 20 years.
According to state Rep. Jack Patrick Lewis of the 7th Middlesex District, the seal, “developed at a time when local officials and later the Massachusetts government offered bounties for native scalps, was never intended to honor native peoples as some now retroactively argue.”
Lewis wrote in an editorial in the MetroWest Daily News that “technical fixes alone are not going to bring about the true racial justice our Commonwealth and country need. But symbols carry great power as visual representations of our strongly held values and beliefs. Doing away with this symbol and the outdated, colonialist ideals it represents is long overdue.”
Towns and cities that have approved resolutions in support of Changing the Flag and Seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts include Acton, Amherst, Ashfield, Athol, Barre, Belmont, Bernardston, Bolton, Brewster, Brookline, Buckland, Cambridge, Charlemont, Chatham, Colrain, Conway, Cummington, Deerfield, Dennis, Eastham, Easthampton, Erving, Gill, Great Barrington, Greenfield, Hadley, Heath, Leverett, Leyden, Lincoln, Lunenburg, Montague, New Salem, Newburyport, Northampton, Northfield, Orange, Orleans, Pelham, Petersham, Plainfield, Provincetown, Rowe, Royalston, Shelburne, Shutesbury, South Hadley, Stockbridge, Sturbridge, Sunderland, Truro, Warwick, Wellfleet, Wendell, Whately, Williamsburg and Windsor.
If you would like to help add your city or town to that growing list, please contact us through the “Get Involved” page of changethemassflag.com
View our interactive map of cities and towns here: https://changethemassflag.com/?da_image=2106 and click on highlighted towns to find out where help is needed on upcoming town meeting votes.