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Panel recommends replacing Massachusetts seal, motto

A detail of the bronze state seal was photographed in the Mass. State House.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

The commission put together to study the racial implications of the Massachusetts state seal and motto has voted unanimously to recommend that both be replaced.

The Special Commission on the Official Seal and Motto of the Commonwealth, made up of lawmakers, members of Indigenous tribes, historians, and others, made the decision at its meeting on Tuesday, GBH News reported.

The current seal that appears on state flags, which dates to the late 19th century, features a depiction of a Native American man beneath a colonist’s arm brandishing a sword. Critics say it references the defeat of local tribes at the hands of English colonists centuries ago.


The state's Latin motto that translates into English as, “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty,” dates to about 1659 and is attributed to English politician Algernon Sydney, according to the secretary of state's office.

Brian Boyles, co-chair of the 20-member commission, pointed out at Tuesday's meeting that the face on the seal was based on a photograph from the Bureau of Ethnology in Washington, D.C., of Thomas Little Shell, a Chippewa leader who never lived in Massachusetts.

“No Native residents were consulted in this selection,” Boyles said. “It’s a reflection of centuries of intentional exclusion on the part of the Commonwealth — from land, laws, and historical records — of Indigenous residents.”

The next step is seeking new designs to the seal and motto.

The commission was created by the state Legislature in early 2021 and was supposed to complete its work by the end of this year, but has asked for an extension until next March.