Resolution in support of changing the Massachusetts flag and seal (Substitute Motion)

Petitioner: Cornelia van der Ziel, TMM5

Annual Town Meeting, May 2019

Legislation to the same effect had been introduced in 17 previous sessions by former Rep. Byron Rushing without getting much traction. There is more interest this year, and six Massachusetts municipalities have adopted resolutions supporting the bill.

The petitioner focused on the symbolism of the many elements of the seal, including the representation of Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag tribe that helped the Plymouth Colony and later allied with the settlers against another tribe. One criticism of the image purported to be Massasoit is that it is a composite rather than an accurate depiction of Massasoit.

The seal was adopted in 1898. It was designed by Edmund Henry Garrett (1853-1929), an American illustrator, bookplate-maker and author - as well as a highly respected painter. The Advisory Committee heard conflicting reports on the artist's intent with regard to the various symbols.

Committee members also learned that the North American Vexillological Association ranked the Massachusetts flag 38th among 72 US and Canadian state, provincial and territorial flags. The main criteria were the appropriateness of the flags' symbolism and the ability to distinguish them from a distance. The resolution does not specifically endorse changing the seal and flag. Rather, it endorses legislation that would create a commission to examine whether some of the symbolism is no longer appropriate. Nonetheless, there was discussion of whether the image of an Indian was appropriate, discussion that will undoubtedly be echoed by Town Meeting members and the public. The petitioner stated that some Native Americans expressed distress at the specific image, though not necessarily at the idea of having an image of an Indian. Advisory Committee members suggested that there is nothing intrinsically derogatory about using the image of a Native American on the seal. We do not put the images of people or the composite representations them on a seal or on currency to dishonor them. And if no image of a Native American is included, we will lose a reminder of the importance of Native Americans in our history.

As can be discerned from the close vote on substitute language recommended by the subcommittee that held a public hearing on Article 28, Advisory Committee members were almost evenly divided. Some felt that the "Whereas" clauses in the petition were intended as political statements; others felt that they reflected history and were educational.

Whatever the artistic and symbolic merits or demerits of the seal and flag, the Advisory Committee agreed that a properly qualified commission should be appointed to study the matter.

The Advisory Committee rejected a motion to recommend the petitioner's language by a vote of 7 in favor, 11 opposed and 2 abstentions.

The Advisory Committee then voted 8 to 7 with 5 abstentions to recommend Favorable Action on substitute language that deletes the petitioner's first six "Whereas" clauses, substitutes three Whereas clauses intended to give context to the resolution, and retains the petitioner's last two Whereas clauses. The substitute language retains the substance of the petitioner's "Resolved" clauses, with minor edits.

Official Town Meeting Vote Select Board Advisory Board

No Action

No Action

Favorable Action




Final Result:

No Action

Community Organization Recommendations
PAX Green Caucus

No Recommendation

Official Text of the Article


WHEREAS Representative Lindsay N. Sabadosa of Northampton and Nika Elugardo of Jamaica Plan and Brookline have filed a Resolve providing for the creation of a special commission relative to the seal and motto of the Commonwealth;

WHEREAS the purpose of this resolve is to investigate features of the official seal and motto of the Commonwealth including those which potentially have been unwittingly harmful to or misunderstood by the citizens of the Commonwealth;

WHEREAS the aim of the resolve is to ensure that the seal and motto of the Commonwealth faithfully reflect and embody the historic and contemporary commitments of the Commonwealth to peace, justice, liberty, and equality and to spreading the opportunities and advantages of education;

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 the resolve offered by Representative Sabadosa of Northampton in the 191st General Court 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 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 Brookline Town Meeting instructs 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.…