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Commission votes to remove state seal and motto and start from scratch


The current deadline for this work is December 31, but the commission wants to push the target date to March 31, 2023.

The Massachusetts State Flag with the State Seal flies in front of the State House. John Tlumacki/Globe staff

A select committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to recommend that Massachusetts move forward with a complete overhaul of its seal and motto.

The current seal design, officially adopted in 1898, depicts a Native American holding a bow and arrow, standing under the arm of a settler carrying a broadsword.

Wrapped around the seal is a blue ribbon with the motto “Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem”, which roughly translates from Latin as “By the sword we seek peace, but peace under freedom”.

Native American groups and activists have long protested the state seal, but it wasn’t until the 2020-21 legislative session that a bill, S.2848, forming the commission was signed into law.

The 19-member Special Commission on the Seal and Motto of the Commonwealth, which includes members of indigenous tribes as well as representatives of the State Commission on Indian Affairs, the State Historical Commission and the Cultural Council of State, among other agencies, met for the first time in July 2021.

Ahead of Tuesday’s official vote, Cheryl Andrews-Maltese, president of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), said that while she would prefer a brand new seal and motto, she could “live with certain elements, because I am also a realist,” GBH reported.

“[I understand] that while we Indigenous peoples are the ones who have been harmed and affected by the negative images, or the interpretation of those images…we are a subset of the members, or citizens, of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” Andrews – said Maltese.

Meanwhile, as GBH also reported, Brig. General Leonid Kondratiuk, Director of Historical Services of the State National Guard, remarked on the historical connection of the state flag with military service.

“Seventeen thousand Massachusetts soldiers died under this flag from 1787 to World War I,” he said, according to GBH. “Of course, we all respect that. But as a retired military officer…it’s on my mind as Memorial Day approaches.

The committee also debated whether to seek public input before or after drafting some drafts. Although no official vote took place, members appeared to support seeking public input from the start, according to GBH.

The commission voted in April to ask the state legislature to extend the deadline for their proceedings from Dec. 31, 2022, to March 31, 2023. The legislature has yet to act on that request.

If approved, this would mark the commission’s third extension on this work, as the original deadline was October 1, 2021.


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