Betsy L. Ames: Establish commission to review state flag, seal
Published: 1/27/2020 in the Daily Hampshire Gazette
I urge the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight to vote for S.1877/H.2776 to establish a commission to review the Massachusetts state flag and seal.
I’m a 20-year resident of Massachusetts. It’s important that the symbols we chose to represent ourselves accurately reflect both the lived history of this place and a vision for the future that will help shift our culturally conditioned worldviews so that regenerative possibilities can emerge.
As a white person now inhabiting territory that had been inhabited by the Algonquian peoples for the previous 18,000 years, I must acknowledge that two apparently contradictory ideas are true — blameless yet responsible.
I’ve inherited an unjust situation which I had no part in creating and I benefit from that injustice which makes me responsible for finding another way forward.
In this year — the 400th anniversary of the first contact between colonial and native peoples — what would it mean to insist upon freedom and justice for all? We could decide to interrupt the conditioning that was handed to us as white people, which only acknowledges the white experience and erases all others.
Not only could we remove the offensive images and words from our state flag and seal, we could place a visible acknowledgment of the original inhabitants on them. Much in the way that Germany made visible the genocide of the Jewish people after the Holocaust by placing plaques in many towns where Jews were captured, we also have an opportunity to make visible the native genocide that began in this state.
And in so doing, opening a door to another way forward by allowing the history to be noticed, grieved and remembered, so that it is never repeated. As we face climate change, perhaps it’s now possible to acknowledge the mistakes of our white colonial mindset, rooted in the idea of man’s dominion over nature, which has amassed immense material privilege and also immense disconnection from being part of the living whole.
We must acknowledge the significance of indigenous wisdom at this historical moment. The outcome of our human relationship with the climate may actually depend on it.
Betsy L. Ames
New York Times
By Katharine Q. Seelye
Sept. 7, 2019
New proposal being made to change Massachusetts state flag
REPOSTED FROM WWLP.COM 22News
Posted: Jan 31, 2019
It’s Time to Reconsider the State Flag and Seal
By Jessicah Pierre
January 23, 2019
Special to the Dorchester Reporter
In October 2017, Massachusetts, in a move strongly supported by Gov. Charlie Baker, removed its one
and only Confederate monument, a memorial dedicated to southern soldiers who were once imprisoned in Fort Warren on Georges Island in Boston Harbor.
That same year, Baker’s spokesperson, Lizzy Guyton, told Boston Magazine, “Gov. Baker believes we should refrain from the display of symbols, especially in our public parks, that do not support liberty and equality for the people of Massachusetts.”
It was a step in the right direction. But a lonely Confederate monument on a Harbor Island is far from Massachusetts’ only symbolic display of inequality. Our state’s flag and Great Seal is one that represents the historical genocide and threats against Native people. And a growing number of activists are joining Native American leaders in urging us to reconsider the Commonwealth’s symbol.
The seal depicts a Native American holding a bow in one hand and an arrow pointed downwards –
representing peacefulness or pacification. Just above the shield is a colonial arm that raises a sword. According to the website changethemassflag.com, the weapon is modeled off a sword owned by the 17th century Pilgrim commander Myles Standish, who was notorious for killing Native Americans.
David Detmold created the website after joining a movement in his home town, Turner Falls, to change the high school’s mascot that at the time was a stereotypical “Indian” and had been the school’s symbol for a century. After two years of intense dialogue, the superintendent and the school committee voted to make a change in 2016.
“A bunch of us who lived in the community were uncomfortable with the logo of our local high school that held a false representation of Native groups in the northeast,” Detmold said. “Local native communities said this mascot didn’t honor them, so they were unanimous in support of changing it.”
First nation groups have long argued that the Massachusetts flag is an outdated symbol of violence and oppression that— just like Confederate monuments— should be removed from all state property, including the flag.
“The flag is a reflection of the ongoing genocide of native people that has been happening in Massachusetts and the New England area since the 1630s,” said Hartman Deetz, a tribal member of the Mashpee Wampanoag and an outspoken critic of the state flag. “This is a flag that celebrates colonial exploitation and dispossession of native people,” he added.
Included in the Massachusetts flag is the state’s Latin motto, “Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietam,” which literally translates to “With a sword, she seeks peace only under liberty.” Noted Deetz: “The sword is certainly a reminder of the threat that native people have faced, and it continues today.”
While the debate about the flag and seal is heating up, it’s not a new issue.
For the past 34 years, former state Rep. Byron Rushing, with the support of the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs, has every two years introduced legislation meant to change the flag and seal. And every two years since 1984, the bill, which would set up a commission to include state
legislators and representatives of Native Nations within the borders of Massachusetts to investigate changes, has been bottled up in committees, and never passed. The panel’s recommendations for any changes would then have to be approved by the Legislature.
Last year, the campaign for change began to attract a bit more support when four Western Mass towns—Gill, New Salem, Wendell, and Orange— passed resolutions in support of Rushing’s legislation. Despite this added momentum, the bill didn’t make it out of the House Ways and Means Committee. So organizers are now back to the drawing board as they continue to host town meetings— including one earlier this month in Cambridge—to spark more dialogue.
Arguments against a change tend to lean on fiscal hardship. Since the state seal is not only on flags, but also a part of the State Police logo, public officials such as Greenfield Mayor William Martin have said that the state doesn’t have enough funding to purchase new state flags and uniforms.
Hartman Deetz calls that a “bogus argument,” saying, “The state can simply phase out the existing flag and seal. No one has an expectation that they’re going to tear down the state and seal overnight. How many flags at state buildings and police cruisers are over five years old? We can gradually phase in a new design as the government updates a lot of these monuments.”
David Detmold argues that this price isn’t too high given the harm being done by keeping this symbol.
“Change is difficult, but our flag is a deep-seated symbol of white supremacy, just like Confederate war statues and the Confederate stars and on the state flag of Mississippi,” he argues. “It’s not just about the symbol. It’s about giving up an ideology of racial oppression that people fought long and hard to maintain.”
Jessicah Pierre is a Dorchester resident.
Editorial: It’s the right time to rethink our outdated state seal
Tuesday, May 22, 2018
We’re not sure how many people actually notice, let alone study the state seal. At first glance, it looks like most such symbols, composed of archaic images and Latin inscriptions.
Our state seal is dominated by a depiction of a Native American, which seems appropriate for a state that took its name from a native Algonquin tribe that lived here before the Europeans. Native Americans played a huge role in helping those first English Puritans establish a toehold in the Baystate. Every November, we commemorate those earliest years, albeit a perhaps romanticized version of that first Native American-European relationship, with our celebration of “the first Thanksgiving” of 1621 after Massasoit and his Wampanoag tribe welcomed the Pilgrims and helped them survive their first winter and adapt to “new” England.
Of course, the interaction between Natives and the new immigrants grew darker in later years and devolved into warfare and domination. Today, from our modern perspective, it seems our state seal and flag — depicting a colonial broadsword hanging over the head of an American Indian — are outdated and convey the wrong message.
The seal shows a blue shield with an Algonquin native in gold holding a bow in his right hand and a downward arrow in his left, with a five-pointed silver star above his right arm, representing Massachusetts as one of the original 13 states. Over the native’s head is an arm grasping a broadsword, with the state motto in Latin written in gold on a blue ribbon streaming below the native. Dating to 1775, when the fledgling state was breaking ties with England, it translates as: “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.” The sword and inscription seem to be an artifact of Revolutionary times and meant to be seen as a sign of strength in defense of liberty against British monarchy rule. But today, seeing a sword hanging over the head of the Native American certainly can telegraph a different meaning of domination over the peoples our European forebears did fight, enslave and subjugate. A bill to reconsider our state seal has for 34 years failed to pass House and Senate, but is again now before the House Ways and Means Committee.
The proposed House resolution says with the approaching 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth, citizens have a chance to reflect on this history “and come to a new awareness of a better relationship” between descendants of European immigrants and those of Native Americans.
It cites some of our darker history: “forced internment of thousands of so-called ‘praying Indians’ on Deer Island, in Boston Harbor, where they died by the hundreds of exposure in 1675,” and the offering of bounty for the scalps of Native men, women and children in Massachusetts beginning in 1686.
Native Americans were legally prohibited from even stepping foot in Boston until 2004, when the 1675 prohibition was repealed.
John Peters, executive director of the state Commission on Indian Affairs, told a legislative committee last spring, “I sincerely request that you consider our shared history and be cognizant of the genocidal accuracy of the symbolism that the seal in part portrays.”
Wompimeequin Wampatuck, chief of the tribal council of the Mattakeeset Tribe, told a House panel “we’d be more than honored” to have an Indian on the flag but without the overtones of subjugation.
Next month, voters in Gill, Orange, Wendell and New Salem will be asked to support a special commission to investigate and recommend changes to these official symbols, which many find offensive.
We would urge the voters in those towns to support the commission and we’d urge our legislators to back the measure as well. Symbols matter, and this one seems outdated, reflective of a mindset and world view from hundreds of years ago.
We don’t know if there’s a rule book for what to depict and commemorate on a state seal, and we can’t telegraph the state’s entire and complicated history in the images of a seal, but do we want to highlight a theme of subjugation of indigenous people? Or can we strike a more hopeful tone, perhaps one drawn from the first Thanksgiving, from our earliest time of cooperation and alliance?
Towns to Weigh Native Depiction on Seal
5/17/18 By Richie Davis
Four Franklin County towns will be weighing in on the state seal and flag depicting a colonial broadsword over the head of an American Indian.
Voters in Gill, Orange, Wendell and New Salem will decide on a resolution in support of creating a special commission to investigate and recommend changes to official symbols, which many find offensive.
The bill, filed by state Rep. Byron Rushing, D-Boston, has been filed for the past 34 years, and is now before the House Ways and Means Committee. It was recommended by the House committees on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight and Rules and was referred in February to the House Ways and Means Committee. In 1989, the measure passed in the House, but then died in the Senate — something that could happen again, since the measure has not yet been introduced in the Senate.
The proposed House resolution says with the approaching 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ 1620 landing at Plymouth, citizens have a chance to reflect on this history “and come to a new awareness of a better relationship” between descendants of European immigrants and those of Native Americans.
It cites “forced internment of thousands of so-called ‘praying Indians’ on Deer Island, in Boston Harbor, where they died by the hundreds of exposure in 1675, their subsequent enslavement” and the offering of sterling as bounty for the scalps of Native men, women and children in Massachusetts beginning in 1686. Native Americans were legally prohibited from even stepping foot in Boston until 2004, when the 1675 prohibition was repealed.
David Detmold of Turners Falls said if Rushing’s bill doesn’t pass this session, he hopes to bring the resolution to other communities around the state. “We think the time is right,” Detmold said. He researched the history of the seal for Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, and then testified at the committee hearing last spring.
“On one level,” Detmold said, “this is symbolic of the relations between the people we’ve named our state after and the colonists.”
John Peters, executive director of the Commission on Indian Affairs, told the Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight last spring, “I sincerely request that you consider our shared history and be cognizant of the genocidal accuracy of the symbolism that the seal in part portrays.”
The state seal, which is based on one dating from the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s formation in 1629 until 1692, depicted an Algonquian clothed in a leafed loin cloth and holding a downward-pointed arrow, with the words, “Come over and help us,” beneath two pine trees.
The seal approved by the Legislature in 1898. From 1692 to 1775, the official seal for the colony displayed the British royal coat of arms, depicting Massachusetts as a province of England under the control of the British monarch.
In 1775, when Massachusetts shrugged off British control and claimed independence from the throne, a new seal was created. The seal, engraved by Boston metalworker Paul Revere of midnight-ride fame, depicted a typical American patriot with a tricorn hat and knickers, holding a sword in one hand and the Magna Carta in the other. Encircling the patriot was a Latin phrase, which translates into: “By the sword we seek peace but peace only under liberty.” This seal was in use until a new seal was needed for the newly formed state of Massachusetts.
The state’s official seal, adopted in 1885, shows a blue shield with an Algonquin native in gold holding a bow in his right hand and a downward arrow in his left, with a five-pointed silver star above his right arm, representing Massachusetts as one of the original 13 states. A crest above displays a blue and gold braid with an arm grasping a broadsword, with the state motto in Latin written in gold on a blue ribbon streaming below the native. Attributed to the English soldier and politician Algernon Sidney, and dating to 1775, when the fledgling state was breaking ties with England, it translates as: “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.” Wompimeequin Wampatuck, chief of the tribal council of the Mattakeeset Tribe, told the House panel that when he sees the seal, the “first thing that jumps to mind is it’s a hostile environment.”
He said the centuries-old image portrays Indians in a “surrender state” and claimed the sword-wielding arm is that of Capt. Miles Standish, part of the pilgrim contingent that traveled to the South Shore aboard the Mayflower in 1620.
Wampatuck, who said his tribe chooses not to be federally recognized, said he has no qualms with depicting an American Indian on the seal and flag, and said, “we’d be more than honored” to have an Indian on the flag without the overtones of subjugation.
Sharon Tracy, who helped to circulate the petition for the New Salem warrant article, said, “If you think about it, the visual is fairly bloodthirsty, and the naked sword hanging over the head of a native American is kind of indicative of a particular mindset that existed hundreds of years ago, when the government put up lots of money if people would bring in scalps of women and children and men who were Native Americans.”
She added, “It seems to me that we should be moving along from that, recognizing how things operated back then and saying we don’t do things that way anymore. The norm has changed, but the visual we have representing this state has not changed. Visuals are very powerful things, so let’s fix it.”
The Wendell meeting and the continuation of the Gill meeting are scheduled for June 5, followed by the Orange and New Salem meetings on June 19. The late Peter Kocot, the Northampton Democrat who co-chaired the House committee before his death in February, said before its recommendation of the bill, “I’m a strong proponent of increasing the level of education about Native American tribes and the role of the history of Massachusetts within the elementary and the entire secondary school curriculum.” State House News Service reporting was included in this article.