BOSTON (AP) — Indigenous groups and their supporters rallied in front of the Massachusetts Statehouse on Thursday to urge passage of legislation banning the use of Indian mascots and reviewing the state seal, which depicts a Native American.
Protesters held signs saying "Humans are not mascots" and chanted "Cities and towns, we're going to take these mascots down." At times, though, they were drowned out by an equally vocal group of protesters opposed to a police accountability bill making its way through the legislature.
"If the (Washington NFL team) can change, so can the Commonwealth," said Kevin Peterson, of the New Democracy Coalition, referencing this week's decision by the franchise to retire its controversial name and logo after years of opposition.
The North American Indian Center of Boston, the United American Indians of New England and other groups organized the Statehouse rally to call for passage of three separate bills as the July 31 end to the legislative session approaches.
One proposal would create a special commission to review the state seal and motto. Another would ban public schools in the state from using Native American mascots. A third would strengthen the state's law protecting Indian burial sites and sacred objects.
Hartman Deetz, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, said the state seal is a "symbol of white supremacy" because it references the defeat of local tribes at the hands of English colonists during their bloody battles centuries ago.
The emblem depicts a Native American man, a colonist's arm brandishing a sword, and a Latin phrase that reads, in part, "By the sword we seek peace."
"That's what that sword is above the head of the Native man on the state flag," Deetz said in prepared remarks. "It's not just symbolism. That's literally what happened to the leader of our people. He was beheaded."
Massachusetts tribes argue a statewide ban on using Native American mascots, nicknames and logos is necessary because many communities have refused to change them despite years of opposition.
In the wake of the national reckoning on racism sparked by George Floyd's killing by Minneapolis police, the name change demands have been renewed, and some communities are taking action.
The Nashoba Regional School Committee in Bolton voted earlier this month to retire the district's Chieftain logo.
Officials in Barnstable on Cape Cod are also weighing their school's Red Raiders team name, and Braintree Mayor Charles Kokoros says he'll meet with local tribe leaders to discuss the town's "Wamps" mascot, which is a reference to Chief Josiah Wampatuck, a colonial-era tribal leader.
Native American groups say Indian mascots and logos promote negative stereotypes even as mascot defenders say they're meant to show respect.
"We don't feel like we are being honored by any mascots. We feel like a trophy," said Brittney Walley, a member of the Nipmuc Nation in Grafton, in prepared remarks.
"It is frustrating to know that countless tribal members before me have already made it abundantly clear that it is unacceptable, and yet the issue has not been resolved," added Rhonda Anderson, a member of the state Commission on Indian Affairs.