Massachusetts lawmakers on Wednesday took a step toward potentially replacing the official state seal and motto, a victory for activists who have argued for decades that the current versions disparage Native Americans.
A legislative resolve creating a commission to recommend a new seal and motto (S 2848) emerged in the final hours of the 2020-2021 lawmaking session, earning support from both branches and landing on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk just after 4 a.m.
The panel would be tasked with studying the state’s seal and motto “to ensure that they 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,” then recommending a new or revised version by Oct. 1.
Native leaders and other racial justice activists have pushed for decades for Massachusetts to change its state seal, which depicts a Native American standing beneath a disembodied arm wielding a sword and the Latin motto, “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.”
“The imagery of the current flag and seal promotes a history of conquest, appropriation, and genocide,” Elizabeth Solomon, an elder of the Massachusetts Tribe at Ponkapoag, said in a statement. “I ask the governor to quickly sign this bill into law so we may start to work on imagining a seal for the Commonwealth that honors the Native people after whom the Commonwealth is named and truly represents the values, goals, and aspirations embraced by all who call the Commonwealth of Massachusetts home.”
The commission would include five members appointed by the Commission on Indian Affairs who descend from tribes with a historic presence in Massachusetts, four members appointed by the governor with cultural and historical expertise, and seats to be filled by the heads of the Commission on Indian Affairs, the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.