BOSTON — After decades of pressure, the state is finally weighing changes to its 240-year-old flag, which Native Americans view as a symbol of suppression.
A 19-member commission met virtually for the first time on Monday to discuss its mission to come up with recommendations to replace a design that "may be unwittingly harmful to or misunderstood by the citizens of the commonwealth."
Tribal leaders say the flag and logo are painful reminders of the colonial experience that should be removed, like Confederate monuments in the South.
The Special Commission Relative to the Seal and Motto of the Commonwealth includes lawmakers, representatives of several several tribes, historians, archeologists, designers and lawmakers.
Commissioner Melissa Ferretti, chairwoman of the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribal Council, said she hopes that in addition to "righting some of the wrongs" of Massachusetts history, the effort will educate the public about the state's indigenous people.
"There's very little knowledge about the existence of tribal nations," Ferretti said. "I think this is a good opportunity for the commonwealth to get to know some of these communities that have been removed from the narrative."
The flag, designed nearly 240 years ago, features a coat of arms and a Native American clutching a bow and arrow, with an arm above him holding a broadsword.
Below is the motto: "Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem.” It loosely translates from Latin to, "By the sword we seek peace, but peace under liberty."
The logo is used virtually everywhere in state government, from Statehouse offices to state police cruisers to the governor's letterhead.
John "Jim" Peters, executive director of the Commission on Native American Affairs and a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag, noted it has taken more than 30 years to push Beacon Hill to the point of considering changes to the flag.
"I'm looking forward to the discussion we will have,” Peters said.
Legislation to change the flag and seal has been filed every two years for more than two decades, but it has never gained traction.
The effort mirrors campaigns to remove Native American mascots and imagery used by public schools and sports teams — which have also gained little support despite a perennial push to ban the use of the symbols.
Native Americans protest the use of mascots such as "Redskins" and "Sachems" as derogatory, while communities defend them as a celebration, not disparagement, of native culture bound in local tradition.
Dozens of communities have adopted resolutions in support of proposals to change the state’s flag. Even if the panel agrees on a new design for the flag, the changes would still require approval from the state Legislature and Gov. Charlie Baker.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Salem News and its sister newspapers and websites. Email him at email@example.com.