Action Alert:

Governor Signs the Bill to Change the Flag and Seal

Indigenous Agenda Rally Nov 2019 Indigenous Agenda Rally Nov 2019

by David Detmold

A commission will be created to recommend a new seal and motto for Massachusetts, after Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, January 11th, 2021 signed (S.2848) – the Resolve calling for the creation of a special commission to study and recommend a new or revised state seal and motto.

The commission must complete its work by October 1st of this year, and recommend changes to the seal and motto that will “faithfully 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.”

Change the State Flag and SealThe present state flag and seal depicts a Native person standing beneath a white arm holding a naked Colonial broadsword, with the Latin motto, “By the sword we seek peace….”

Elizabeth Solomon of the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag has said the imagery on the present state flag and seal “promotes a history of conquest, appropriation, and genocide.”

After the House passed S.2848 on a voice vote on Wednesday, January 6th, at 4:30 in the morning, Rep. Nika Elugardo of Boston, a lead sponsor in the House, credited former Rep. Byron Rushing for his groundbreaking work advancing the legislation to change the flag and seal of Massachusetts. “For over 35 years, Native leaders have asked the Mass Legislature to re-examine the harmful elements of our state flag and seal,” she wrote. “Today the Legislature stands on the shoulders of long-time champion Representative Byron Rushing as we answer the call of our generation.” The commission, she wrote, “lets us re-imagine the symbols representing our Commonwealth… in a way that honors our shared heritage and our debt to indigenous communities.”

Mahtowin Munro from United American Indians of New England said the resolve represents a “first step toward repairing the harm done to Indigenous people. As the new session opens, we will be back at the State House to present bills to ban Native American sports team mascots, to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day statewide, to protect Native heritage, to ensure improved educational outcomes for Native students, and to include curriculum on Indigenous history and cultures in Massachusetts public schools,” she wrote.

Now that the governor has signed the resolve into law, S.2848 will establish a special commission which will include five members appointed by the director of the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs who descend from tribes with a historic presence in Massachusetts, five members appointed by the governor who have relevant “cultural and historical expertise,” and nine other seats to be filled by the heads of the Mass Commission on Indian Affairs, the Mass Historical Commission, the Mass Foundation for the Humanities, and the Mass Cultural Council, along with the chairs of the Joint Committee on State Administration in the Massachusetts House and Senate, and the minority leaders of the Massachusetts House and Senate.

We would like to take this opportunity to once again thank former state Representative Byron Rushing, who introduced the bill to change the flag and seal for 17 sessions in a row, beginning in 1984, only to have the legislation blocked year after year by his majority white legislative colleagues. We would also like to thank the lead sponsors in the House and Senate who worked with determination and vision this session to bring the legislation he championed to final victory: Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa of Northampton, Rep. Nika Elugardo of Boston, Sen. Jo Comerford of the First Hampshire-Franklin-Worcester district, and Sen. Jason Lewis of the Fifth Middlesex district.

We would also like to thank all the members of the broad-based coalition, under Native leadership and guidance, who worked so hard to make this victory possible, and each of the many volunteers within the peace, racial justice, and faith based community from the Berkshires to Provincetown who organized more than 40 successful town meeting and city council votes supporting S.2848, who tirelessly lobbied their legislators and wrote to the governor demanding action to change the state flag and seal.

Today’s victory reflects your hard work, and for all you have done to make it possible, “Thank you!”