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Critics Say Mass. Flag And Seal Are Symbols Of White Supremacy02:21
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An image of a glass-stained “Seal of the Commonwealth” located at the top of the grand staircase inside the State House. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
An image of a glass-stained “Seal of the Commonwealth” located at the top of the grand staircase inside the State House. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Lawmakers heard testimony Tuesday on a pair of bills that could result in the revamping of the state's flag and seal. It's one of several bills supported by indigenous people up before a legislative committee.

Critics say the state's flag and seal are symbols of white supremacy.

The image of a Native American holding a bow and arrow — with a disembodied arm wielding a broadsword above the figure — has been in place on the state flag and seal since the late 18th century. Indigenous people and others also have taken issue with the motto written in Latin, which translates to, "By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty."

Jean-Luc Pierite, of the North American Indian Center of Boston, said the figure on the flag and seal is a composite and an inaccurate representation of native peoples.

"We don't deserve to be memorialized as nameless composites," Pierite said at a rally outside the State House on Tuesday. "This doesn't do honor to us, and it does a disservice to the complete history of the commonwealth of Massachusetts."

A tour group inside the Massachusetts State House is shown a stained glass display with the “Seal of the Commonwealth” located at the top of the grand staircase. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A tour group inside the Massachusetts State House is shown a stained glass display with the “Seal of the Commonwealth” located at the top of the grand staircase. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The bills Pierite and others support would create a special commission to be tasked with developing a more appropriate seal and flag. Faries Gray, Sagamore of the Massachusett Tribe of Ponkapoag, said they've been fighting for 400 years to be honored.

"We're so grateful that there are people here — not just indigenous people but other people from different nationalities — that are coming to support the indigenous agenda, because the indigenous people can't get it done because the system's stacked against us," said Gray.

Among those non-indigenous people supporting the bill is state Sen. Jo Comerford, of Northampton, who said it may be among the most important bills the Legislature will consider.

"I suggest that we have a responsibility to tell the truth about the ravages of colonization, which continue to take their toll today," Comerford told the Legislature's joint committee on state administration and regulatory oversight.

"Tell the truth about the pain embodied in our state flag and symbol. Tell the truth about the values that we hold dear and want representing us embodied in a new seal and a new motto," she added.

Similar bills have been filed in the past, but have failed to gain any traction. Supporters hope this coming year — the 400th anniversary year of when the Pilgrims first encountered the Wampanoags in Plymouth — will be different.


Correction: An earlier version of this story stated the wrong town of residence for Comerford. The post has been updated. We regret the error.

This segment aired on November 20, 2019.

Steve Brown Twitter Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.

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