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Here’s where things stand on efforts to get Mass. a new state seal

The planned state seal redesign could include the state flag.

The Massachusetts state seal as seen on the state flag. AP Photo/Steven Senne

The special commission tasked with revamping both the Massachusetts seal and motto may add another important symbol of the commonwealth to its list of goals: the state flag. 

A subcommittee of the 19-member Special Commission Relative to the Seal and Motto of the Commonwealth met Thursday to discuss plans for their new iterations. 

Among the subcommittee’s attendees was Belmont designer Micah Whitson, who was also involved in the redesign of Mississippi’s flag. Whitson gave a presentation in which he suggested that the committee should also reconsider the Massachusetts flag, since it depicts both the seal and motto that the committee is currently reconfiguring. 

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“Our flag is the biggest opportunity to cement the state’s visual identity,” he told the committee. “The seal and the motto are less visible … We’re often thinking about the flag when we’re talking about the seal, because they are one and the same. We should clarify where the flag fits into this overall process.”

Whitson referenced a state law in which the flag must feature the state seal. He proposed that the commission either attempt to expand their charge to include the flag, create a new flag commission, or work to change the law altogether. The subcommittee was responsive to his ideas.

“I think it would be a great service to the commission overall if we addressed the three [the seal, flag, and motto] together,” said Rep. Antonio Cabral, a committee member who represents the 13th Bristol District of New Bedford in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

The seal’s current design, enacted in 1898, features an Indigenous man holding a bow and arrow, while standing beneath a colonist’s arm wielding a sword. The state motto, written underneath in Latin, translates to “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty” in English. The Massachusetts state flag includes both the seal and motto. 

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The seal and its imagery have been a topic of conversation among Native American activist groups for years, but it wasn’t until January 2021 that Gov. Charlie Baker signed the committee’s creation into law.

Whitson suggested that symbols better suited to a state’s logo are those of the natural world, such as the state bird or flower. The Thursday meeting adjourned with the subcommittee planning to make a list of these symbols for public input later this month. 

“The seal uses imagery that is problematic and exclusionary in so many ways. It really doesn’t reflect a vision of the Commonwealth that anybody today can connect with,” Donna Curtin, the executive director of the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, told the committee.

Beyond redesigning the seal, the commission also seeks to examine the negative effect that the seal’s iconography has on Indigenous communities. It is tasked with creating a plan to educate the public about the issue.

In April, the commission unanimously voted to request the state Legislature extend the deadline for their work from Dec. 31, 2022 to March 31, 2023. The Legislature has not yet granted the extension. 

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