STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, APRIL 11, 2017…..It is a symbol literally emblazoned throughout edifices and articles of state government, and for a contingent of residents the seal of the Commonwealth represents violence perpetrated by European settlers against American Indians.
At a hearing Tuesday before the Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, several people testified in favor of legislation to consider changing the state seal. According to the bill’s sponsor, the effort to change it dates back about 30 years.
“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,” said John Peters, executive director of the Commission on Indian Affairs.
As is the case with other state officials, Peters’s business card features the seal embossed on the upper left corner.
Wompimeequin Wampatuck, chief of the tribal council of the Mattakeeset Tribe, said Tuesday that when he sees the seal the “first thing that jumps to mind is it’s a hostile environment.”
The state seal, which is replicated on the state flag, depicts an American Indian holding a bow in one hand and an arrow pointed downwards – representing peacefulness or pacification – in the other, with a disembodied arm holding a sword above him.
Wampatuck said the centuries-old image portrays Indians in a “surrender state” and claimed the sword-wielding arm is that of Captain 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.
Rep. Byron Rushing, a Boston Democrat, filed legislation that would establish a commission, including at least three people of native American descent, to determine whether the seal and state motto “accurately reflect and embody the historic and contemporary commitments of the commonwealth to peace, justice, liberty and equality, and to spreading the opportunities and advantages of education.”
Rushing told the News Service that the bill has been filed about three decades, and he believes it might have success this time around because “there is a lot more concern about how we respond to people of color.”
Those opposed to changing the seal over the years have argued that it is a “sacred symbol,” according to Rushing. A spokesman for Secretary of State William Galvin said the bill is “under review.” The secretary’s website reports that the seal was adopted by Gov. John Hancock in 1780 and later enshrined in law. Hancock was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the first governor of Massachusetts after the founding of the country
The administration committee’s co-chairs, Rep. Peter Kocot, a Northampton Democrat, and Sen. Walter Timilty, a Milton Democrat, declined to take a position on the bill (H 1707) and said they planned to consult other members of the committee.
“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,” Kocot told the News Service, saying he plans to “vet the bill very carefully.”
The history between the early European settlers of the Bay State and the people who were living here before their arrival is a bloody one, which includes the King Philip’s War and various atrocities.
“We are arrogantly showcasing the worst of our history,” said Sherrie Ann Noble, a Weymouth resident who said she sued the Cleveland Indians when she was living in Ohio over the team’s logo – a red-faced caricature. Noble said she was “horrified” when she saw the Massachusetts flag.
Activists successfully convinced South Carolina to remove a Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds. Mississippi has retained its state flag, which is controversial because it echoes that symbol of slave-holder rebellion.
Copyright 2017 State House News Service