I’m writing to you to seek your support for three important Indigenous civil rights bills that are before the Massachusetts State Legislature and need to be voted on before the end of July. The three bills seek to ban Native American sports mascots, redesign the racist Massachusetts state flag and seal, and protect Native American heritage (more details below my signature).

I know that you and your organization will understand the urgent need to address racial justice issues and symbols of white supremacy now. Here are two steps we are asking you to take:

1.    Please go to this link: https://secure.everyaction.com/a7m-qciMMUyYlIL2jxcTVA2, where you can fill in your home or organizational address and send an automated letter in support of all 3 bills to your state representative and state senators as well as other key legislators. If you can sign on behalf of your organization, that would be fantastic, or otherwise we will list your title for identification purposes only. (You are also welcome to put the text of the letter on your organization’s letterhead and send to the legislators in that manner, if you prefer.)

2.    Please share this information via social media and your mailing list as well as with your staff, asking them to support too!

For 400 years, Massachusetts has ignored the rights and concerns of Indigenous people. Now is the time for the Legislature to pass these bills and stop ignoring Indigenous voices! If these bills are not passed before the end of July, we will have to reintroduce these and our other legislation in 2021, and the bills will need to wend their way through another two-year hearing and legislative process.

Thank you for your support! We need to flood the State House with support emails by no later than July 27.

-Mahtowin Munro for the MA Indigenous Agenda coalition

The 3 bills are:

1.       Resolve Providing for the Creation of a Special Commission Relative to the Seal and Motto of the Commonwealth (S.1877/H.2776)

2.      An Act to Ban the Use of Native American Mascots by Public Schools in the Commonwealth (S.247 / H.443)

3.    An Act to Protect Native American Heritage (S.1811/H.2948)

Flag, Seal and Motto Bill:

Now that Mississippi has decided to retire its confederate state flag, Massachusetts is the last US state whose flag includes representations of white supremacy.  It features a Colonial broadsword held in a white hand over the head of a composite “Native American,” and its Latin motto begins, “By the sword we seek peace…” Hartman Deetz (Mashpee Wampanoag) made remarks about why the Massachusetts flag and seal need to be changed. “The English cut off the head of Metacom (King Philip) and displayed it on the top of a pike in Plimoth. That’s what that sword is above the head of the Native man on the state flag. That sword continues to hang over the head of Native people in Massachusetts. It’s not just symbolism. That’s literally what happened to the leader of our people. He was beheaded…. and we continue to live under that threat today, from continued genocide, from continued dispossessions, from continued oppression, here in Massachusetts and all across the country. This is a symbol of white supremacy.”

 Mascots Bill:

Commenting on the bill to ban the use of Native American mascots, the Sagamore of the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag, Faries Gray, said: “My tribe is not in support of any Indigenous mascots. We don’t feel like we are being honored by any mascots. We feel like a trophy. ‘We conquered you and this is our trophy.’ It’s insane we have to deal with it. We’re still here. We’re a living people.”

Other tribal nations and intertribal organizations in Massachusetts have supported the call for a prohibition on all Native American sport team mascots/nicknames/logos in Massachusetts public schools. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe wrote: “A state law to address the problem of these nicknames/logos is necessary because many communities in Massachusetts resist calls to eliminate the Native American nicknames/logos used by their schools. The Tribe/Nation urges you to listen to our voices, and the voices of other Native American tribal nations and organizations that represent Native American people who reside in the state of Massachusetts. And, we urge you to consider the research, which clearly demonstrates that Native American mascots in sport are not educationally sound for Native American and non-Indigenous youth.”

Native Heritage Bill:

Native American advocates and allies also seek passage of “An Act to Protect Native American Heritage”. This bill would refine Native Americans Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) enforcement to include all publicly funded entities in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. If passed into law, this would further ensure the repatriation of sacred and funerary objects to the tribal communities of origin as well as deter auction houses from being able to obtain such items.  As Chairwoman Cheryl Andrews-Malthais of Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) testified in 2016, “Tribal cultural heritage belongs to the tribal community of its origin as a whole. And by tribal custom, cannot be alienated from that community by any individual or group without the expressed free, prior, and informed consent of that tribe.”

Overall Need for Bills:

 Putting the need for the legislation into a broader context, Jean-Luc Pierite, president of the Board of the North American Indian Center of Boston, a statewide Native American community organization based in Jamaica Plain, noted that “What COVID-19 and #BlackLivesMatter demonstrate in plain terms is that our current social systems need structural and foundational change. Symbols from flags, mascots, and names on public places and on the design of infrastructure like roads and pipelines are the branding of the extraction of resources, wealth, and labor from BIPOC peoples. To change the system is to change the branding. These are not mutually exclusive, unless we are simply appeasing the electorate or window dressing.”

According to Mahtowin Munro from United American Indians of New England and the Massachusetts Indigenous Legislative Agenda, “Four hundred years after the arrival of the Pilgrims from Europe, all too many Indigenous concerns remain unaddressed. Any authentic efforts to address racial injustice need to include and respect the voices of Indigenous people and ensure that Native American concerns are addressed. Supporting this legislation should be a bipartisan effort to begin to redress longstanding grievances. The current session of the Massachusetts legislature has a historic opportunity to begin to listen to Indigenous voices statewide and take first steps toward repairing relationships with Native Americans by passing this meaningful legislation.”