Karen Kurczynski: State seal and flag need changes for 21st century

  • mactrunk

Published: 5/23/2018 8:05:22 PM
State seal and flag need changes for 21st century

A change is overdue for the Massachusetts seal and flag. As cities and states across the country debate their public monuments and flags, it’s time to take a closer look at ours.

The state coat of arms of Massachusetts, which appears on the state flag, the state seal and the seal of the University of Massachusetts, is an outdated symbol of violence. It features a blue shield with a gold figure of a Native American man wearing moccasins and a feathered headdress. He holds a bow in his right hand, and in his left an arrow pointing downward, traditionally a symbol of peace.

Just above the shield, however, a colonial arm raises a sword. Intended as a Revolutionary reference, it threatens the Native American figure, recalling a painful history of violence against Native Americans in the state. Ninety-nine percent of the Native American people in Massachusetts died of disease and violence in the first century of colonial settlement.

Today, the state’s 37,000 Native American citizens seek greater recognition and face issues ranging from affordable housing to land rights. We need a new icon to represent the diverse citizens of Massachusetts today, Native and non-Native alike.

Jim Peters, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoags and executive director of the Commission on Indian Affairs, told the Cape Cod Times in 2010 that “the sword over the Indian’s head is horrific.” Massachuseuk tribe member Gill Solomon agreed, stating, “The seal of Massachusetts represents a conqueror.”

State Rep. Byron Rushing, of Boston, supported by Solomon Goldstein-Rose, of Amherst, and others, has proposed that the state Legislature revise the seal every year since 1984. Many other state symbols were changed after public objections, most recently the mascot of Amherst College.

Student senators at the University of Massachusetts Amherst led the school to change its mascot from the Redman to the Minuteman in 1972, and in 1989 a single class of second-graders in Amherst got the arrows taken out of the pilgrim’s hats on the Mass Turnpike signs.

We need a state flag and seal for the 21st century — one that proclaims strength and respect, about which we can all be proud.

Karen Kurczynski

Amherst




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