Resolution in support of changing the Massachusetts flag and seal

Petitioner: Cornelia van der Ziel, TMM5

Annual Town Meeting, May 2019

Legislation similar to this bill has been filed in the Massachusetts State Legislature by former State Representative Byron Rushing (D - Suffolk) every 2 years for the past 34 years. These efforts have had the support of the Massachusetts Commission of Indian Affairs but never made it out of committee. Multiple Native American groups, such as the North American Indian Center of Boston and United American Indians of New England, are in support of this bill as part of their legislative agenda. The bill is attached. It sets up a commission to study the state seal and motto and to make recommendations regarding revisions to the state legislature. The state legislature then will vote on whether or not to accept the recommendations of the commission and the governor would need to sign it into law.

The seal has changed several times since the 1629 Seal of the Governor and Company of Massachusetts Bay. The original seal is shown in the accompanying flyer. The Native is depicted as saying, "Come Over and Help Us", implying that the Native Nations had requested help from Europeans. This stands in stark contrast to the actual events, including huge loss of life from disease, starvation, and the outright slaughter of Native populations. This was followed by enslavement or servitude in Pilgrim households under the guise of saving Indigenous People's souls. Native peoples were also sent to the Caribbean Islands as slaves. Linford D. Fisher of Brown University has said that Native American Slavery "is a piece of the history of slavery that has been glossed over...Between 1492 and 1880, between 2 and 5.5 million Native Americans were enslaved in the Americas in addition to the 12.5 million African slaves." Rather than actually helping the Native populations, it could be said that the European colonists "helped" themselves to the land inhabited by these peoples.

The current seal and flag, designed by Edmund Garrett and adopted in 1898, contain an image of a Native man whose body and dress are a composite of multiple Native men. The face comes from a photograph taken of a Chippewa chief from Montana. The proportions of the body come from a Native skeleton disinterred in Winthrop. The belt is patterned after that worn by Metacomet who led the first Native war against English colonization. He was subsequently beheaded, and his head was displayed on a pike for more than 20 years. Garrett noted that, "The bow is an accurate representation of one taken from an Indian shot and killed by William Goodnough in Sudbury in 1665." The downward pointing arrow, used in both the current seal and the one from 1629, indicates a "peaceful" or "pacified" Indian. The threatening sword over the Native man's head is purported to be modelled after Myles Standish's broadsword. Standish is known to have ambushed and killed four Massachusett warriors after he had summoned them to a meeting. As detailed in New England Magazine, a great deal of thought was given to the depiction of the Indian.

Some might consider this art. Nevertheless, it should be recognized that the figure represents a troublesome history. Hartman Deetz (Mashpee/Wampanoag) stated as part of a panel discussion on January 9, 2019, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 'This is a flag that celebrates colonial exploitation and dispossession of Native People.' He further stated, 'The flag is a reflection of the ongoing genocide of the Native People that has been happening in Massachusetts and the New England area since 1630.' The motto has various translations, but it is commonly translated as 'By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.'

Official Town Meeting Vote Select Board Advisory Board

Favorable Action

Favorable Action

Voted on Substitute Motion




Final Result:

Favorable Action

Community Organization Recommendations
PAX Green Caucus

Favorable Action

Official Text of the Article


WHEREAS, the history of State of Massachusetts is replete with instances of conflict between the European Colonists and the Native Nations of the region, who first extended the hand of friendship to the Colonists in 1620 and helped them survive during the settlers' first winter on their land; and

WHEREAS, members of the Native Nation for whom the State of Massachusetts is named were ambushed and killed by Myles Standish, first commander of the Plymouth Colony, in April 1623, barely two years after the Pilgrims arrived on their shores; and

WHEREAS, the symbols in the current flag and seal of the Commonwealth are a composite of appropriated symbols that do not reflect the true history; and

WHEREAS, since colonial times, the history of relations between what is now the State of Massachusetts and the Native Nations include forced internment leading to the death of hundreds in 1675 on Deer Island and their subsequent enslavement in Boston, Bermuda and the Caribbean islands, and

WHEREAS, the Native Nations within the current State of Massachusetts were kept in a state of servitude, and their members were legally considered incompetent wards of the state until the nonviolent action of the so-called Mashpee Rebellion of 1833 which led to the granting of Native self-rule by the Massachusetts legislature in 1834, as if it were the right of the Massachusetts legislature to grant such rights; and

WHEREAS, Native Americans were legally prohibited from setting foot into Boston from 1675 until 2004, when the law was repealed; and

WHEREAS, the 400th anniversary of the landing of the European Colonists at Plymouth Plantation is approaching in 2020, giving every citizen of the Commonwealth a chance to reflect on this history and to come to a new awareness of the possibility of a better relationship between the heirs of the European conquest and the Native Nations of the Commonwealth; and

WHEREAS, Native Americans have long suffered the many abuses of racism, the appropriation of their symbols for public schools and sports teams, the confiscation and pollution of their ancestral lands and the encroachment on their cultures;

Now, therefore, BE IT RESOLVED that Town Meeting of Brookline adopts this resolution in support of H.2776 and S.1877, entitled 'Resolve providing for the creation of a special commission relative to the seal and motto of the Commonwealth' and commends Representative Nika Elugardo as a sponsor and Representative Tommy Vitolo as a cosponsor of this resolution and further urges Representatives Edward Coppinger and Michael Moran and Senator Cynthia Creem to support and vote in favor of the aforementioned Resolve (H.2776 and S.1877) in the General Court and that the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight (or all other legislative committees which may hear the bill), after holding a public hearing, report it out favorably and if the legislation shall pass, that Governor Charles Baker shall sign it and work with members of the General Court to ensure its enactment.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town Clerk shall cause a copy of this resolution to be sent to State Representatives Elugardo, Vitolo, Coppinger and Moran, to Senator Creem and to Governor Charles Baker.…