• Effort grows to change the Massachusetts state flag, seal

    By: Bob Dumas

    Updated:

    Most people probably don't know the symbols on the Massachusetts state flag. For tens of thousands of residents, however, the official seal of the state recalls memories from a troubling past. It features a Native American warrior with someone holding a sword over his head.

    The state flag is a common site, flying over state buildings and memorials.

    Jean-Luc Pierite, of the North American Indian Center of Boston, said "Our community members are definitely aware of it, of the imagery. They are acutely aware because it's read a certain way among Native Americans than it would be in the general population."

    Since 1898, the state seal has featured an illustration of a generic Native American warrior with a hand holding a sword over his head.

    "It's coded in a certain way by someone telling our community members who they should be, versus our community members saying this is who we are, and this what we value," added Pierite.

    Now the state seal could be changing. Communities from Cape Cod to Franklin county have passed resolutions supporting a bill which would create a commission to come up with a new logo.

    "We've got three times as many state legislators co-sponsoring this session as we did last session," explained David Detmold, the leader of Change the Mass Flag.  

    This new momentum is tied to next year's 400th anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower, as well as an increased recognition of the message the state flag sends to the rest of the country, according to Detmold. 

    "There are really only two states where the state flags are controversial, and one, of course, is Mississippi where they have the Confederate stars and bars as their state flag and there's a real effort to change it in Mississippi," said Detmold. "Do we want to continue to be in a race with Mississippi for who holds onto these controversial images the longest?"

    At Sergi's Barbershop in Dedham, they're not so sure what's on the state flag really makes much of a difference. Barber Jim Daley said, "It's not going to change anything, and it would be more important to get together to really work on real problems instead of just doing feel-good stuff that isn't going to change anything."

    DeeDee Lenane, the shop owner, added: "Every story is different and maybe for different reasons, maybe you could do it, but I just think it would open the flood gates to change probably a lot of things that shouldn't be changed."

    Pierite believes symbols do matter and changing the one on the state flag could send a powerful message. "Let's come up with a history that tells both sides of the story. That's what we want to have, for Native Americans to have their chance to come to the table and tell their own stories."

    Detmold said in all, dozens of cities and towns are expected to take up resolutions supporting the state bill this spring, including communities closer to Boston, such as Lincoln and Brookline.

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