Stuart Cahill/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald by way of Getty Photographs
Given the violent historical past of English colonizers in New England, it’s a surprise why the state insignia of Massachusetts, absolutely emblazoned on right this moment’s state flag, nonetheless features a sword dangling over the top of a Native American.
It was somewhat greater than 30 years in the past when the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority removed its offensive emblem that featured a pilgrim’s hat with a Native American arrow shot via the center of it.
The state insignia nonetheless stands, and like many campaigns to rid faculties and cities of demeaning mascots and public statues, the efforts to take away it begins with an correct model of historical past. Within the case of the Mass Pike emblem, it began with a letter-writing marketing campaign by second graders studying in regards to the historical past of Plymouth Plantation in 1620.
The story of the present Massachusetts insignia begins with the seventeenth century seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This insignia depicted an nearly bare Native American, lined in some leaves, with a speech bubble stating: “Come over and assist us.”
This earlier seal was changed by just a few others, however in 1895, the picture of a Native American was reintroduced to the state flag. At first look, the present seal seems much less offensive. The Native American is dressed no less than, and the speech bubble was deleted. However there’s a sword dangling over the Native American’s head.
This sword is modeled after the weapon utilized by Miles Standish, who was in control of Plymouth Plantation’s navy affairs. As English colonial data present, Standish led a number of violent battles in opposition to Native People.
Photograph 12/Common Photographs Group by way of Getty Photographs
Throughout one such struggle, a Native American was decapitated and his head was displayed on a pike as a trophy exterior of Plymouth, a typical apply in early trendy English warfare. Furthermore, the belt on the picture relies on the one worn by Metacom, a tribal chief of the Pokanoket Tribe and the Wampanoag Nation who was referred to as King Philip by English settlers. Metacom led an anti-colonial resistance motion within the 1670s in what is named King Philip’s Warfare.
Once more, and following a longtime sample within the area, after Metacom was killed, his head was impaled on a pike at Plymouth and left displayed there for twenty years.
Given the central position that violent warfare in opposition to Indigenous peoples performed in the course of the colonization of New England, the state motto, “By the sword we search peace, however peace solely underneath liberty,” raises questions in regards to the accuracy and sensitivity of the state’s alternative of photographs and phrases to symbolize its historical past and values.
Change the flag
Native American teams such because the United American Indians of New England have been crucial of the state seal and different inaccurate Indigenous representations for many years. The seal is just not the one goal of protests.
The insignia and mottos of a number of Massachusetts cities, in addition to statues, buildings and sports activities mascots throughout the state, have brought about controversy. The city seal of Andover, which depicts an Indigenous chief who supposedly offered land for a change of clothes, is one instance. The Hannah Duston statue in Haverhill has additionally been a supply of debate. It depicts a seventeenth century New English girl who, after her seize by Native People, led the killing and scalping of 10 sleeping Native People, nearly all of them youngsters, ladies and aged.
In fact, comparable discussions happen on a nationwide degree about how we bear in mind the previous. Simply take the lately abolished Mississippi state flag, which included Accomplice symbolism, or the debates surrounding controversial statues of Accomplice troopers.
What has been restricted prior to now to road demonstrations is now a legislative precedence for Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. He lately created a “Particular Fee Relative to the Seal and Motto of the Commonwealth.” Based on the web site describing the particular fee’s first listening to, held on July 19, 2021, it’s charged with not solely making “suggestions for a revised or new design of the seal and motto” but in addition with creating “an academic program on the historical past and which means of the seal and motto.”
Baker’s initiative underscores Native American teams’ efforts to result in legislative change and create extra respectful representations of Indigenous peoples. However the suggestions of the all-volunteer committee have been due on Oct. 1, 2021. To this date, they haven’t been submitted, and it’s unclear when they are going to be.
Extra public schooling
Whereas Native American activists and allies are keenly conscious of this disturbing New England historical past, my expertise as a public speaker and scholar of Native American historical past suggests many residents in Massachusetts have little consciousness of the seals’ symbolism and the area’s previous.
Given this actuality, the state has another choice along with legislative acts – present extra sources for public schooling, together with historic signage and markers in public areas.
Hulton Archive/Getty Photographs
Separate from the fee, a marketing campaign to coach the general public may show to be a extra constructive solution to inform the story of Native People in addition to English colonists. This may very well be achieved via partnerships amongst Native American and academic nonprofit organizations and first, secondary and college educators, in addition to the state Division of Elementary and Secondary Training.
By means of public talks and instructor workshops, of which I’ve given shut to twenty in 2021, I’ve seen a necessity for a extra expansive initiative. Many Massachusetts residents are desirous about studying extra in regards to the legacies of New England colonization and the way they affected Native People. Extra essential, educators are looking forward to sources to show this troublesome topic.
In Massachusetts, and all through the USA, offering sources to get rid of demeaning depictions of Native People would go a great distance towards critically coming to phrases with the nation’s violent previous.
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Christoph Strobel doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or organisation that might profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their tutorial appointment.