BOSTON (AP/WWLP) — Massachusetts’ Senate unanimously approved legislation Tuesday creating a special commission to review the state seal and motto, which includes a controversial depiction of a Native American man.
The bill still needs House approval, but Native American groups praised the vote.
“This bill provides a chance to begin a conversation about our history and reimagine what a truly inclusive state seal and motto can look like,” stated Senate President Karen E. Spilka. “The Senate will never waiver on its commitment to making our Commonwealth welcoming for all, and so I am proud to see this proposal for a commission to study our seal and motto move forward. I would like to extend my gratitude to the many advocates who have continued to raise this issue, and to Senators Lewis and Comerford for their work and collaboration on this issue.”
“A white hand holding a colonial sword over the head of a Native person is a terrible and racist symbol that has no place representing our state,” North American Indian Center of Boston, the United American Indians of New England, and other groups said in a joint statement.
They also called on lawmakers to take action on two other proposals ahead of their summer recess: a bill banning public schools from using Indian mascots and another strengthening protections for Indian burial sites and sacred objects.
The Senate’s state seal bill creates a commission to investigate features of the official seal and motto that “may be unwittingly harmful” or misunderstood. It would also make recommendations for a new seal design or motto.
Members of the commission would include Massachusetts tribe members as well as representatives for the state commission on Indian affairs, the state historical commission and the state cultural council, among other agencies:
- Five members appointed by the Commission on Indian Affairs who are descendants of tribes with a historical presence in the commonwealth;
- Four members appointed by the governor with relevant cultural and historical expertise;
- The executive director of the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs or a designee;
- The executive director of the Massachusetts Historical Commission or a designee;
- The executive director of the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities or a designee;
- The executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council or a designee; and
- The House and Senate chairs of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory; Oversight.
The commission would be charged with submitting its report to lawmakers by October 2021. The legislation now moves to the Massachusetts House for consideration.