City defers move on state seal deemed racist

  • Massachusetts state seal CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 3/13/2019 11:03:15 PM

GREENFIELD — A City Council committee is considering whether to back a resolution supporting changing the state flag and seal, which is a part of a broader statewide effort to remove what some consider to be a racist and dated symbol. 

The seal in part depicts a Native American with a bow and arrow in hand but with the arrow pointed down. Above the Native American is depicted an arm wielding a sword. A Latin inscription says “by the sword we seek peace.”

At a lightly attended public hearing Wednesday night, the committee, short two members, did not vote to recommend and forward the resolution — which is backed by state Sen. Jo Comerford and Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa of Northampton. Instead, the committee said it will bring the resolution back up at its April meeting, targeting a council-vote later that month. 

The resolution has been brought forward to communities in part by Turners Falls resident David Detmold, with longtime historian for the Native American Nolumbeka Project and Greenfield resident, Howard Clark. 

“For me, the state flag is very demeaning to the native population,” Clark said Wednesday. 

Clark cited historic documents and literature as close to the primary documents as possible that he has studied to why the symbol is offensive. The resolution calls for forming a special commission in the state with five natives on the board to study what would be a good way to move forward. It also will look to increase education in the state over the history of natives here. 

Clark hopes this will spark interest for people to do their own research on local native history. 

“It’s time we start looking at our history and getting into depth about it,” Clark said. “And then maybe have a different opinion than what we’ve been told.” 

Clark and At-Large City Councilor Isaac Mass, a member of the committee who wasn’t present Wednesday night, differ on the best way to approach the resolution

Mass sent an email last month to Detmold, Precinct 5 Councilor Tim Dolan, Mayo and state senators Comerford and Sabadosa. The message was also passed on to Clark. 

Mass, a veteran, looked to ensure veteran voices are at the table. 

Mass requested a different resolution be passed on to the council. 

“If the goal is to actually get this done (and) not just to pay lip service,” Mass said in his email, “I wonder if pushing the exact same legislation that (was) filed for decades without movement makes sense.”

“Perhaps building a broader coalition will be helpful,” Mass said. 

Instead of appointing the five members to the commission on Indian affairs that are of native descent from Massachusetts tribes, Mass proposes not limiting this selection by a person’s race. 

His compromise calls for: an academic with expertise in Massachusetts native culture and history; an expert in tourism related to native peoples in Massachusetts; a civil rights advocate with experience in discrimination towards native peoples in Massachusetts; a Massachusetts primary school education professional with experience related to the teaching of native cultures to elementary school children; and an expert in the area of humanities of native people in Massachusetts, including art, music and literature. Mass said he believes the people selected would likely be of native descent from Massachusetts tribes anyway. 

“If there is support for these changes, I would be more than happy to speak to my Republican colleagues who I am sure would rather not even discuss this issue, but when confronted would like the opportunity to be on the right side of history,” Mass said. 

In Clark’s response to Mass, he said: “The military in Massachusetts was used in the past by the various governors to oppress the Native populations both in times of war and of peace.” 

Clark, who said he served in the Strategic Air Command during the Vietnam War, noted some Native Americans have served in the military — but emphasized the need to ensure the people on the committee are of native descent. 

“They are the ones who need to be heard, not those who are descendants of white settlers who have no personal experience with the impact this seal has had on the lives of the Native people who believe it is time to make amends and change this racist symbol,” Clark said. 

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264




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