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Massachusetts commission considers designs for a new state seal and motto

Subcommittee For Research And Design via NEPM)
A few Massachusetts symbols that Micah Whitson, who is redesigning the state's seal and motto, presented in May 2022 and referenced in the meeting. Subcommittee members Donna Curtin, Melissa Ferretti, Antonio Cabral and Brian Weeden are shown on the right. (Screenshot - Subcommittee For Research And Design via NEPM)

Members of a Massachusetts commission formed to consider the redesign of the state seal and motto are offering preliminary proposals.

The current state seal, which has been in place since 1898, depicts a severed arm holding a sword above a Native man holding a bow and arrow. "Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem" is the state motto, a Latin phrase meaning, "By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty."

In a meeting Thursday, members of a subcommittee of the commission agreed that local plants and animals could be stronger visual images than humans in a new design.

The commission's co-chair, Brian Weeden, spoke about the possibility of using a pine tree on the seal. Weedon, who chairs the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, explained how the tribe gave pine needles to those who died as a final offering from the natural world.

"We talk about the story about how because the pines loved each other, they were given the gift of eternal life and that's why they're the only tree that you see that has life throughout all four seasons," Weeden said.

Other members agreed it would be beneficial to include a list of plant and animal images not to use because they could be offensive to Native tribes.

When the idea of possibly using cranberry was introduced, Melissa Ferretti, chairwoman of the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe, described her tribe's history.

"I know the cranberry is really important. It's been very important to Wampanoag people, I think. But the Herring Pond Tribe specifically, we have sort of this love-hate relationship with the cranberry, because much of our lands were destroyed and taken because of the cranberry," Ferretti said. "So that's something that could look very different for us as opposed to maybe some communities that have not had that."

Subcommittee members will present their suggestions for discussion next week to the full Special Commission on the Official Seal and Motto of the Commonwealth.

This story is a production of New England News Collaborative. It was originally published by New England Public Media. 



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