State Flag Pierces Dignity of Original Americans; Baker Open to a Do-Over

Friday, June 26, 2015

Governor Charlie Baker gave a jolt of energy this afternoon to an idea that’s been languishing at the State House for years and that came to the fore this week because of the racially motivated slaughter of nine African-Americans at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, last week.

That idea is to change the Massachusetts state flag because it is offensive to Native Americans.
For at least the last three legislative sessions, Assistant House Majority Leader Byron Rushing, D-Boston, has tried to move a bill that would set up a commission to look at redesigning the flag; so far, he’s made little headway.

There is not a large bloc of legislators actively defending the flag and vowing to preserve it as is.  It’s more a case of legislators being reluctant to initiate a change process on the ground, I presume, that, once you start tinkering with the official portrayal of historical events, where do you stop?
Yvonne Abraham heaved the idea into the spotlight yesterday in a Boston Globe column headlined “It’s no Confederate flag, but our banner is still pretty awful.”

Wrote Abraham, “Though the Massachusetts state flag is not as overtly abhorrent as the one that flies on South Carolina’s state capitol grounds, it is still pretty awful,” adding, “…It is hard to read it (the Massachusetts flag) as anything but a flag designed by and for the colonial conquerors who made the Bay State, the ones who won the land – with a short time out for Thanksgiving dinner – by all but eradicating the people who got here first.” 

The Massachusetts flag depicts a member of the Algonquin tribe on a shield beneath a disembodied right arm that wields a big sword.  Swirling round that shield is a ribbon on which is written, in Latin, words that mean, “By the sword we seek peace, but peace under liberty.” 
The images and words can too easily be perceived as evocative of King Philip’s War (1675-78) between the English colonists and the Wampanoag tribe that had befriended the English upon their arrival 55 years earlier at Plymouth.  In that war, the Wampanoag were allied with another tribe, the Narragansett.  The war ended, genocide-like, with but a small remnant of Wampanoag and Narragansett alive.

As for changing the flag, Governor Baker told the State House News Service, “I would say if there is an interest among the players, and there are many, to have a conversation on the flag, I would certainly be happy to participate in that.  It has been around for I think about 150 years and there is nothing wrong with taking another look.”
More than encouraging the governor to take another look, I’d ask him please to replace the flag with something that does not make one think we are reconciled to the notion of  annihilating the human beings who owned the splendid lands and waters that became the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Our state's name was adopted from the name of the peoples who lived here first, the Massadchuset.  That name, in turn, was derived from the word they had for the Great Blue Hill in Milton and Canton, a place spiritually significant to the ancient peoples. 

Commonwealth comes from common weal, which meant the common well-being, or the common good.
If I had a say, this is what I'd say: 

Mr. Governor and distinguished members of the Great and General Court, it's time for a new and better Massachusetts state flag.  The new flag, I believe, should solely bear an image of Massasoit, Chief of the Wampanoag, who helped to ensure the survival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth.  One of Massasoit's sons, Metacom, later became Chief of the Wampanoag. He was called by the English "King Philip." Chief Metacom was slain near the end of the terrible war that bears his name.  I ask you please to decree that, on our new Massachusetts state flag, beneath an image of a robust, dignified and proud Chief Massasoit, these words shall be inscribed:

Remembering Him, and Regretting the Fate of His People, We Strive Harder for the Common Good  


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