HANSON – Is it time to change Massachusetts’ official state seal and flag?
Activists and historians have been displeased with the state seal and motto for decades, but it took until 2021 for the state to create a redesign commission.
Hanson voters, on Monday, May 1 will be asked, through article 37 on the annual Town Meeting warrant to adopt a resolution in support of the Special Commission’s work in redesigning the state flag and seal that may, “better reflect our aspirations for harmonious and respectful relations between all people who now call Massachusetts home.”
The article, sponsored by Marianne DiMascio, of Indian Head Street, would require the town clerk shall forward a copy of this resolution to state Senator Michael Brady, D-Brockton, and representatives David DeCoste, R-Hanover, and Josh Cutler, D-Duxbury, requesting they support the work of the commission and advocate for a new flag and seal for the Commonwealth.
“There might be some people opposed, but I think, overall, it’s a resolution that really makes sense,” she said. “We’re a spot where there’s a lot of indigenous history.”
Then-Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill in 2021 to change the state flag and seal, but as of last year a redesign was not complete and the commission asked for an extension in July 2022, which would have expired on March 31, 2023, but the legislature has not granted an extension yet.
DiMascio said Gov. Maura Healey’s fiscal 2024 budget gave some funding to the commission and extended it’s work through November.
“The committee is supposed to come up with a recommendation after lots of input and some polling by November,” she said. “[The article] is to encourage the work of the commission and ensure that it is seen through to the end.”
Once the commission presents its findings, it must go back to the legislature to approve it.
“It’s to say, ‘finish the job,’” she said. “It’s been an issue for a long time and it’s finally got a little momentum, so don’t let it die … don’t let the work of this commission sit idly.”
The state’s flag we recognize has only been the official banner of the Commonwealth since 1908, even though Massachusetts has been represented by official flags, with limited purposes, sine 1676. Right now, the state has three official flags, the state flag, a governor’s flag and a maritime flag.
It is only one of three states, including Minnesota and Florida, that depict a Native American in its heraldry, and a survey by the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA) placing our state flag at 38th in design quality among 72 flags representing the United states, its states and territories and Canadian provinces.
Designed in 1898, the current flag, which is also the state seal, the indigenous man stands under a colonist’s sword-bearing arm. On the seal Latin words below the image read [in English]: “By the sword, we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.”
Currently imagery from the natural world, such as the state bird or flower are preferred, according to a report in the Boston Globe in Juy 2022, which quoted Executive Director Donna Curtin of the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth as saying, “The seal uses imagery that is problematic and exclusionary in so many ways. It really doesn’t reflect a vision of the Commonwealth that anybody today can connect with.”
Part of the objection, as outlined in Article 37 of Hanson’s annual Town Meeting warrant, is that the figure on the flag as what he is wearing are based on actual people.
“The proportions of the body of the Indigenous person on the Flag and Seal were taken from the skeleton of an Indigenous person unearthed in Winthrop, the bow modeled after a bow taken from an Indigenous man shot and killed by a colonist in Sudbury in 1665, and the facial features taken from a photograph of an Ojibwe chief from Great Falls, Montana, considered by the illustrator to be a “fine specimen of an Indian,” though not from Massachusetts,” reads the proclamation which the article supports.
Aside from a violent history of relations between colonists and Massachusetts tribes, it also notes that indigenous people were legally prohibited from even entering Boston from 1674 to 2004, when the colonial law was finally repealed.
DiMascio is philosophical about the potential reaction to the article at Town Meeting.
“I think some people might see the benefit,” she said. “There might be people who say we shouldn’t change it, but it’s gone through different changes in the years we’ve had it. It’s not been the same for all these years.”
While she is working to get the work on the flag’s imagery restarted, DiMascio said she is neutral on the kind of image that should replace the seal.
“I leave that up to the commission to do that,” she said. “It’s a bipartisan commission … and I think one of the very important things is that there are Native American leaders who are working with them to provide their opinion about what [the design] should be.”