A SPECIAL COMMISSION that spent close to three years analyzing the state seal and motto concluded its work on Tuesday by urging the Legislature to make a change while offering no specific recommendations on what that change should be.
The current seal features an image of a Native American holding a bow and arrow and a sword hanging over his head. The Latin motto translates as: “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.”
The special commission, created in the aftermath of the nationwide reckoning in 2020 over the symbols and names that harken to institutional racism, said it will forward its final report to the Legislature on Wednesday and urge lawmakers to create a second commission to actually hire a designer and come up with a final motto and seal incorporating symbols and terms that are aspirational and inclusive of diverse perspectives.
Although the commission raised several possibilities for the seal and motto, the panel punted a decision to the Legislature. How that decision will be made is unclear at the moment.
“We reckoned with a history that is painful and too often marginalized from public narratives about our state. We educated ourselves on the histories and usages of state seals, looking to other states for guidance and best practices. We sought out public opinion, choosing to go beyond our charge in order to provide the people of Massachusetts with a voice in our recommendations,” said Brian Boyles, Brian Moskwetah Weeden, Michael Comeau, and Brittney Wunnepog Walley, the chairs and vice chairs of the commission, in a letter prefacing the draft report.
The commission consisted of representatives of Native communities, legislators, subject matter experts, veterans, directors of cultural institutions, archivists, and artists.
“This commission deserves a lot of credit for all the work it has done so far. I know it’s an issue that is touchy and sensitive. I think it was handled quite well without offending anybody,” said commission member Rep. Antonio Cabral of New Bedford.
Having decided in May 2022 to recommend changes to the seal and motto, the commission missed a couple of its deadlines as members worked on figuring out what the changes should be. They commissioned a public survey in August asking people to weigh in on what they would like to see.
According to responses to the survey, people preferred the seal to include images of Massachusetts, the state’s coast or shoreline, or a right whale. Other top contenders were a mayflower, cranberries, and the black-capped chickadee. Native American respondents in particular wanted to keep the figure of the Native American on the seal.
“The Commission appreciated the views of several of its Indigenous members who expressed support for keeping an Indigenous figure in the heraldic charge as a way to prevent additional erasure of their communities from the official history and iconography of the Commonwealth,” the commission’s report says.
However, there were opposing viewpoints on this issue.
“Others expressed the view that a coat of arms is a Eurocentric concept which does not represent the breadth of populations in the Commonwealth, and that the placement of an Indigenous person within such a concept is disrespectful of Indigenous culture and the experience of colonialism,” according to the report.
The report acknowledges that there are many different perspectives on this issue and calls for the inclusion of diverse representation–particularly Indigenous representation–in the actual decision-making process for creating a new seal and motto.
The commission also recommended another commission be established that would carry forward the current commission’s recommendations and that Massachusetts dedicate more resources to educating the public about the history and usage of the current seal.