Sunday, August 14 2022


(The Conversation is an independent, nonprofit source of information, analysis, and commentary from academic experts.)

(THE CONVERSATION) Given the violent history of the English colonizers in New England, it is astonishing that the state badge of Massachusetts, fully engraved on the current state flag, still includes a sword hanging from the over the head of a Native American.

A little over 30 years ago, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority got rid of its offensive logo which featured a pilgrim hat with a Native American arrow shot in the middle.


The state badge still stands, and like many campaigns to rid schools and towns of humiliating public mascots and statues, efforts to remove it begin with a precise version of the story. In the case of the Mass Pike logo, it started with a letter-writing campaign by second-graders learning about the history of the Plymouth Plantation in 1620.

The history of the current Massachusetts badge begins with the 17th century seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This badge depicted an almost naked Native American, covered in a few leaves, with a speech bubble saying, “Come help us. “

This earlier seal was replaced by a few others, but in 1895 the image of a Native American was reintroduced to the state flag. At first glance, the current seal seems less offensive. The Native American is at least dressed, and the bubble has been removed. But there is a sword hanging over the head of the Native American.

This sword is based on the weapon used by Miles Standish, who was in charge of military affairs at Plymouth Plantation. As English colonial records show, Standish fought several fierce battles against Native Americans.

During one of these fights, a Native American was beheaded and his head displayed on a pike as a trophy outside Plymouth, a common practice in the early days of modern English warfare. Additionally, the belt in the image is based on the one worn by Metacom, a tribal chief from the Pokanoket tribe and the Wampanoag nation who was called King Philip by English settlers. Metacom led an anti-colonial resistance movement in the 1670s in what is known as the King Philip War.

Again, and following a pattern established in the region, after Metacom’s death his head was impaled on a pike in Plymouth and left exposed there for two decades.

Given the central role that the violent war against Indigenous peoples played during the colonization of New England, the state motto, “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under freedom.” , raises questions about the accuracy and sensitivity of the state’s choice of images. and words to represent its history and values.

Change flag

Native American groups such as the United New England Indians have criticized the state seal and other inaccurate Indigenous representations for decades. The seal is not the only target of the protests.

The badges and mottos of several towns in Massachusetts, as well as statues, buildings and sports mascots across the state, have sparked controversy. The seal of the town of Andover, which depicts an Aboriginal chief allegedly selling land to change clothes, is one example. The Hannah Duston statue in Haverhill has also been a source of debate. It depicts a 17th-century Neo-English woman who, after her capture by Native Americans, led the murder and scalping of 10 sleeping Native Americans, mostly children, women, and the elderly.

Of course, similar discussions are taking place at the national level about how we remember the past. Just take the recently abolished Mississippi state flag, which included Confederate symbolism, or the debates surrounding the controversial statues of Confederate soldiers.

What was in the past limited to street protests is now a legislative priority for Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. He recently established a “Special Commission on the Seal and Currency of the Commonwealth”. According to the website describing the special commission’s first hearing, held on July 19, 2021, it is tasked not only with making “recommendations for a revised or new design of the seal and currency”, but also to create ” an educational program on the history and meaning of the seal and motto.

Baker’s initiative highlights the efforts of Native American groups to make legislative changes and create more respectful representations of Native peoples. But the recommendations of the committee of all volunteers were expected October 1, 2021. To date, they have not been submitted, and it is not known when they will be.

More public education

While Native American activists and allies are keenly aware of this disturbing New England history, my experience as a speaker and specialist in Native American history suggests that many Massachusetts residents are unaware of the symbolism of seals and the past. of the region.

Given this reality, the state has another option besides legislative acts – to provide more resources for public education, including historical signage and markers in public spaces.

Regardless of the commission, a public education campaign might prove to be a more constructive way to tell the story of Native Americans as well as English settlers. This could be achieved through partnerships between Native American and nonprofit educational organizations and elementary, secondary and university educators, as well as with the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Through public lectures and workshops for teachers, of which I have given nearly 20 in 2021, I have seen the need for a broader initiative. Many Massachusetts residents are interested in learning more about the New England settlement legacy and how they affected Native Americans. More importantly, educators are hungry for resources to teach this difficult subject.

In Massachusetts and across the United States, providing resources to eliminate humiliating portrayals of Native Americans would go a long way in critically addressing the country’s violent past.

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This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: https://theconversation.com/the-massachusetts-flag-glorifies-the-violence-committed-by-colonizers-native-americans-want-it-changed-173626.


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