All 50 American states have official flags and seals. In recent years, two of them in particular – the state flag and seal of Mississippi, which incorporates the Confederate battle flag, and Massachusetts state flag and seal, which features a Colonial broadsword hanging over the head of a Native American man – have come under sustained criticism as official state symbols of white supremacy.
The effort to change the state flag and seal in Massachusetts has been reintroduced every two years since 1984 in the state legislature with the support of the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs. As John Peters, Jr., of the Mashpee Wampanoag, who succeeded his father, John Slow Turtle Peters, as director of the Mass Commission for Indian Affairs during the decades the bill has languished in the statehouse, told legislators in 2017, it is long past time for Massachusetts to “consider our shared history and be cognizant of the genocidal accuracy of the symbolism that the seal in part portrays.”
State symbols portray the official image of the state to the people who live within its borders, and to the nation and the world at large. Native Americans should not have to send their children to grade schools in the Commonwealth where young children absorb the imagery of warlike relations and the subjugation of Native people on the state flag, which is placed prominently on auditorium stages at public schools throughout the state. Every voter guide, every state police vehicle, every official letter from state bureaucrats to their constituents bears this symbol at the very top, and emphasizes the historical relationship of domination between the settler society and the Native Nations who live among us. Symbols have weight; they have meaning; they have power.
As we approach the 400th year since the Wampanoag first welcomed European settlers to their shores and helped them to survive the first harsh winters on their lands, it is time to change the Massachusetts flag and seal to reflect a better relationship between all the peoples of the Commonwealth, in the shared awareness of the painful truth of our past, and in hope of peace and harmony in the years to come.
We must account for the messages conveyed by the Commonwealth’s most widespread symbols.

Below is a breakdown of the symbols in the current Flag.

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