Renewed Calls to Change the Massachusetts State Flag

Native American advocates, legislators, and supporters are gathering at the State House in a call to change the state flag

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Advocates are urging lawmakers to pass legislation in a renewed call to change the Massachusetts state flag. The flag features a colonial broadsword held over the head of a Native American.

A group of advocates, legislators, and supporters are holding an 11 a.m. press conference on the steps of the State House Thursday in support of three bills that are currently pending on Beacon Hill related to Native American heritage.

Jean-Luc Pierite, president of the Board of the North American Indian Center of Boston, said that “What COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter demonstrate in plain terms is that our current social systems need structural and foundational change.”

Advocates claim that Massachusetts is "the last U.S. state whose flag includes representations of white supremacy" now that Mississippi has retired the confederate state flag.

With many school districts faced with the question of whether to change their mascots, a familiar debate has come up again in Tewksbury, Massachusetts.

The bills:

  1. Resolve Providing for the Creation of a Special Commission Relative to the Seal and Motto of the Commonwealth (S.1877/H.2776)
  2. An Act to Ban the Use of Native American Mascots by Public Schools in the Commonwealth (S.247/H.443)
  3. An Act to Protect Native American Heritage (S.1811/H.2948)

What they do:

The flag, seal and motto bill would establish a five-member commission, to be chaired by the Executive Director of the Commission on Indian Affairs, to investigate and make recommendations for a revised or new design.

Anaelisa Jacobsen of Manos Unidas Multicultural Educational Cooperative in Pittsfield said the organization has been working to get rid of the "racist" and "abominable message" of the state flag and seal.

"In these times, we must deeply ask ourselves, what symbols do we want to uphold and which do we want to abolish in order to promote the values of a forward-thinking, multicultural state," Jacobsen posed. "We must seek symbols that instill pride, not shame and prejudice, symbols that unite, not separate.”

The mascot bill would ban Native American mascots in public schools across the state and require that they come up with new team names and logos.

″Mascots erase the identity of Native people, generate stereotypes, and portray us as people in the past," said Rhonda Anderson, Iñupiaq-Athabaskan, a member of the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs. "The mascot issue needs to be taken up at the statewide level since it relates to civil rights."

The heritage bill would make all publicly funded entities subject to penalties for tampering with any Native American sacred and funerary objects, human remains, sacred objects, or objects to the tribal communities of origin as well as deter auction houses from being able to obtain such items. 

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