Steph Solis, Mass Live, January 6, 2021
After years of protests and testimony from Native American residents, Massachusetts lawmakers passed a bill in the final minutes of the legislative session that takes a step toward changing the state seal and motto.
The House and Senate enacted the bill, S.2848, that creates a commission to review and recommend changes to the state seal and motto after repeatedly extending the two-year legislative session early Wednesday. Historically, lawmakers are bound by rules that prevent them from passing legislation after 11:59 p.m. on the last night of session, but the emergency rules implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic offered the House and Senate flexibility as the session drew to a close.
Sen. Jo Comerford, also a Northampton Democrat, noted that after years of activism from indigenous people and advocates, the state seal bill advanced 400 years after the landing on Plymouth rock.
“I think this is a tremendous victory. It’s an indigenous rights victory. It’s a racial justice victory,” she said in an interview Wednesday morning. “It’s a victory for everyone who believes that it’s time to reconsider the kind of seal and motto we want on our flag.”
In its current form, the state seal shows a hand holding the sword over the head of a Native American with the Latin motto the translates to, “by the sword we seek peace.” The sword symbolizes Myles Standish, an English militia leader in the 1600s who attacked Native American settlements.
The bill sets up a special commission to review the seal, recommend a new design and propose an educational program on the history and meaning of the state seal and motto. The special commission would include the executive director of the Commission on Indian Affairs or a designee, five members appointed by the commission who descend from local tribes and several state and legislative officials.