By Bob Katzen
The Senate 39-0, approved a measure that would create a special commission to investigate the official state seal and motto including “those features that may be unwittingly harmful to or misunderstood by Bay State citizens to ensure that they faithfully reflect and embody the historic and contemporary commitments of the state to peace, justice, liberty and equality and to spreading the opportunities and advantages of education.”
The commission would make recommendations by October 1, 2021 for a revised or new design of the seal and motto. The seal currently includes a Native American holding a bow in one hand, an arrow in the other hand and a disembodied arm holding a sword above him. The motto is “By the sword we seek peace, but only under liberty.” The commission would also make recommendations for an educational program on the history and meaning of the seal and motto.
The commission would determine “whether the seal and motto accurately reflect and embody the historic and contemporary commitments of the commonwealth to peace, justice, liberty and equality, and to spreading the opportunities and advantages of education.”
Supporters of the special commission say the current seal is politically insensitive and the bow and arrow depict violence. They note the sword-wielding arm is that of Captain Miles Standish, a pilgrim whose army killed many Native Americans in the 1600s and portrays Indians in a “surrender state.”
“Our collective symbols of identity matter, and if they marginalize some of our fellow residents and perpetuate harmful stereotypes, they should be replaced,” said Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester). “Native advocates and allies championed this legislation for decades, and I am grateful that their advocacy led to the passage of this bill.”
Supporters of the current seal say that it is a sacred symbol. They argue that the depiction is appropriate and note that the arrow is pointing downward which is known as a Native American symbol signifying peace.