Massachusetts senators unanimously agreed Tuesday that a panel should suggest a new state seal to replace the 122-year-old version that Native Americans largely view as symbolizing white supremacist violence.
The Senate voted 39-0 to approve a Sen. Jason Lewis resolve forming a special commission tasked with designing a new seal and state motto and with studying ways that the existing version, which depicts a Native man standing beneath a disembodied arm and sword, "may be unwittingly harmful to or misunderstood by the citizens of the commonwealth."
Tribal leaders and activists have pushed for decades to replace the state seal, warning that the individual pictured reinforces stereotypes against Native Americans and that the inclusion of the overhead sword implies violent subjugation of the Indigenous people. Their protests gained traction in recent weeks.
"This flag and emblem has long been viewed by indigenous people and others as symbolizing white supremacy and ethnic cleansing perpetuated against the Native populations," Lewis said on the Senate floor.
The commission created by the resolve (S 2848) would include the executive director or designee of the state Commission on Indian Affairs, five members who are descendants of tribes with historic presences in Massachusetts, four members appointed by the governor with "relevant cultural and historical expertise," chairs of the Legislature's State Administration Committee, and executive directors or appointees from the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
Gov. Charlie Baker said last week that he is "open" to discussions about changing the state seal, though it is not clear if the House also plans to take up the resolve.