Push Under Way On Beacon Hill To Dump State Flag; Guess Why?

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2017/04/11/push-under-way-on-beacon-hill-to-dump-state-flag-guess-why/

BOSTON — A push is under way on Beacon Hill to change the state flag because of its depiction of a Native American man tilting his arrow towards the ground as an apparent sign of pacifism and submission, while a colonial-style broadsword wielded by a white man hovers above his head.

State Representative Byron Rushing (D-Boston) has introduced legislation calling for the “creation of a special commission relative to the seal and motto” of the commonwealth. On Tuesday the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight heard testimony from several flag opponents, including a Weymouth woman who has previously led efforts to force the Cleveland Indians baseball team to ditch its name and Chief Wahoo mascot.

“Our state flag, now that I’m a citizen here in Massachusetts, horrified me when I first saw it,” Sherrie Noble, who worked for the currently shuttered nonprofit American Indian Education Center while in Cleveland, told lawmakers. “It’s been flying over this building, has been prominently displayed in courthouses and government offices, and it is even displayed in many places of worship.

“It is also prominently displayed on State Police vehicles, on their doors; the images themselves endorse, teach, and support racism and violence.”

Rushing did not testify at the public hearing, but the longtime lawmaker from Boston’s South End has made several attempts throughout the course of his 35-year legislative career to have the state seal changed. During the late 1980s, Rushing led efforts to force the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority to dump its former logo, one which depicted a pilgrim hat that had been pierced by an arrow:

Noble pointed out that the flag’s latest approval for adoption occurred in 1971, “well within the memory of many members of this legislature.”

“Every day the flag remains as it is designed we are all collectively — and you are individually endorsing — the racism it showcases,” Noble added. “If we allow our flag to remain unchanged, we are arrogantly showcasing the worst of our history.”

The seal in its current form dates back to 1780. Others who spoke included John A. Peters, executive director of the state Department of Housing and Community Development’s Commission on Indian Affairs. Peters, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, said the seal “has been symbolic of the genocide that took place here in Massachusetts.”

Larry Fisher, who also goes by the name Wompimeequin Wampatuck in his capacity as chief of the South Shore’s Mattakeeset Tribe, told lawmakers that the seal “depicts the hostile takeover of the first people of Massachusetts.”

“The seal has several ties to slavery, displacement, and genocide of all kinds, including identity, culture, land ownership, and murder,” Fisher added.

Fisher said he believes the arm holding the sword above the Native American man’s head belongs to Myles Standish, who arrived via the Mayflower. Fisher described Standish as a “slaveholding, mass-murderer of Indians.”

Fisher also claimed that the seal’s imagery has the potential to induce post-traumatic stress-related symptoms for Native Americans, citing the science of epigenetics, part of which theorizes that genes can pass down aspects of ancestral trauma.  

“Looking at this seal triggers our PTSD and historical trauma for me and many others,” Fisher said.

Meanwhile, asked by a New Boston Post reporter on what a potential replacement for the state seal could be, Noble responded by saying it is a question she has yet to consider.

“I haven’t thought about that, but I love the coastal picture, the diversity and world connections we have here in Massachusetts and the sciences, which tracks all the way back to indigenous herbal practices,” she said.

Fisher said a new state seal would ideally be crafted with the assistance of Massachusetts Native Americans.

“We must achieve peace, balance, and harmony together, so let’s design it together,” he said.

David Detmold of Montague also testified, leading lawmakers through a brief history of the seal’s evolution. He explained that pre-1780, the state seal depicted an Anglo-American man clutching the Magna Carta, an image engraved by Paul Revere. Prior to that, the seal used by the Massachusetts Bay Colony featured a Native American man standing between two trees with the motto “Come over and help us.”

The current state seal, Detmold said, “seems to many of us to be flagrantly representative of white supremacy.”

Detmold added that he has previously lobbied Turners Falls High School, which serves Montague, to drop the use of an Indian mascot. He pointed out that the town’s namesake, Captain William Turner, is famous for the role he played in King Phillip’s War, in which he led a surprise pre-dawn attack on an unsuspecting Indian village.

“We continue to make the analogy, and it may seem extreme, but were you to name a sports team in Auschwitz or Buchenwald the ‘Hitler Jews,’ it would be similar to naming a sports team in my community the ‘Turner’s Indians’,” Detmold said.

Tuesday’s hearing saw nobody testify in favor of preserving the state seal. 

Rushing’s bill is currently under review.