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Cambridge City Council waded into broader state and national issues at its meeting this Monday, passing two resolutions—one questioning the Massachusetts State Seal and another admonishing recent North Carolina legislation regarding BGLTQ residents.
One of the resolutions, sponsored by Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons, requests that the Massachusetts State Legislature “review the symbolism of the Official Seal of Massachusetts to determine whether it may be perpetuating or promoting hurtful symbolism.”
“[Constituents] have been urging the Commonwealth to review this matter for quite some time, and they appealed to me for assistance in drawing attention to the matter,” Simmons wrote in an email.
The state seal depicts a Native American person with a bow and arrow underneath a sword surrounded by the Latin words “Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem,” which, according to the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ website, translates to “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.”
The request to review the state seal was, in part, influenced by similar actions taken at Harvard Law School in recent months, according to Simmons.
“In light of the fact that the Harvard Law School seal and many other prominent seals, flags, and symbols have come under renewed scrutiny—and in some cases, revisions—in the last few years, the request of these constituents to at least bring this to the attention of the state legislature seemed reasonable to me,” Simmons wrote.
John A. Peters, Jr., executive director of the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs, said the Commission, which represents Native Americans in Massachusetts, does not find issue with the depiction of the native person alone.
“We’re honored to have a native person, [as the] first person on the seal,” Peters said. “It’s very fitting for Massachusetts, one of the first colonies here in the [in the continental United States], paying tribute to the original peoples of the land.”
Still, Peters said other imagery on the seal posed more of a problem. Peters said the swinging sword over the native’s head is a depiction of an early colonial military adviser.
“What is most inappropriate is the sword over the Indian’s head, with Myles Standish’s sword.” Peters said Standish was “instrumental in a lot of the early deeds that were written, that the native people didn’t understand.”
“The motto is another disturbing concept,” Peters said. “The way we interpret that is... we’re going to liberate your property and possessions and keep the peace by the sword.”
The council also passed a resolution this week sponsored by Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., which bans all taxpayer funded trips to North Carolina. The resolution targets recent legislation in North Carolina that prohibits transgender residents from using bathrooms that do not match their gender on birth certificates and does not mention protections for BGLTQ citizens in an antidiscrimination policy.
The resolution called the North Carolina law “discriminatory legislation against the LGBTQ community” and against the values of the City of Cambridge.
The resolution follows similar actions taken by the Governors of Vermont and New York. Massachusetts Governor Charles D. Baker ’79 said this week that he will not ban state-sponsored travel to the Tar Heel State.
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