Special commission votes to create a new Massachusetts state seal and motto

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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)

It looks like Massachusetts will be getting a brand new state seal and motto.

The current state seal has been in place since 1898. It depicts a Native American standing under an arm wielding a sword, accompanied by the Latin motto: “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty."

The special commission charged with reviewing and possibly revamping Massachusetts's official state seal and motto officially voted unanimously this week to recommend that both be replaced.

Brian Weeden is co-chairman of the commission and chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. He joins Morning Edition host Rupa Shenoy to talk about this decision.

Highlights from this interview have been lightly edited for clarity.

Interview Highlights

On what led the commission to scrap the current state seal and motto:

"It's a reminder of the oppression and the genocide that was caused to the Indigenous people. As we know, here in the commonwealth is where the English and the Pilgrims landed, first on Cape Cod out here in Wampanoag territory, and then further inland to Plymouth, which is also Wampanoag territory.

"After the English got here ... a lot of the Indigenous people out here in the Northeast were kind of the guinea pigs. They were able to assimilate us, forced Christianity upon us, and by the time they had worked their way out west, were more strategic in organizing reservations and tribes and taking away their food rights and their sovereignty and so on."

On the role the original meaning of the seal played into this decision:

"We all agreed after hearing from the Indigenous group. I think that our nation's history has been very one sided. It's always been from the colonial perspective and the Indigenous people have been the ones who have been advocating for the commonwealth to bring forward this change and to change our state seal and our motto.

"A lot of us are just on the same page representing our Indigenous nations and our people, our communities, to make sure that our voices are being heard. And I think that we have a lot of allies and a lot of people that want to bring justice to this situation and highlight the beautiful inequalities and ethnicities here in the commonwealth."

On why the commission has asked for three extensions to complete this task:

"The commission got off slow. There were some outstanding appointments that hadn't been made yet. And then just working on the time, making sure we have more time. I think that it took us a while also to get organized.

"Once we structured the commission with co-chairs ... we have meetings and we're bringing a lot of structure in getting us back on track. So that's why it's taken us a while. It's just hard to cram a lot of this information and work into an hour or 90 minutes one time a month. So it's really up to the subcommittees and us to really do a lot of the legwork here."

On what the new state seal and motto should reflect:

"I think that's going to take the groups and communities' input. We have to have public input sessions. We really need to get a better understanding of what the residents of the commonwealth are looking for in their new state seal and motto. That will kind of help give us the direction that we need to redesign this new seal.

"Hopefully we can have a lot more community gatherings or a listening session and take this trip on the road to various communities here in the commonwealth so that we can hear everyone's voice, and everyone that wants to be part of this change in this time in our state's history is being heard and being considered throughout the process."

This segment aired on May 19, 2022.

Headshot of Rupa Shenoy

Rupa Shenoy Morning Edition Host
Rupa Shenoy hosts WBUR's Morning Edition.


Headshot of Hafsa Quraishi

Hafsa Quraishi Associate Producer, Here & Now
Hafsa Quraishi is an associate producer for Here & Now.



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