Massachusetts Statehouse Art Shows “Peaceful” and “Praying” Indians, Ignores the Harm

The first official seal of the Colony of Massachusetts, shown in a stained glass window in the Massachusetts State House.
The first official seal of the Colony of Massachusetts: 1628.

Shown at right is the first official seal of the Massachusetts Colony. It has a Native American dressed in a grass skirt with the words coming from his mouth: “Come Over and Help Us.”


First, the Wampanoag native to the area did not wear grass skirts. Second, does anyone believe that any of them ever said: “Come Over and Help Us”? In fact, the colonists soon cheated the Wampanoag out of their land and banned their language.

A close up of the stained glass window.

And so we continue with our tour of art in the various state capitols and statehouses to see how they depict Native Americans and early U.S. history. (Information on capitol art in Minnesota and other states is collected on 0ur Capitol Art page.)

Today’s tour is the Statehouse of the Massachusetts Commonwealth. This stained glass version of the first Colonial Seal appears prominently atop a large window over a main Statehouse staircase. The window includes all the iterations of the Massachusetts seal.

It might seem historically quaint to some, but this original seal reflects a narrative of the helpless Indian. The words are not legible to passersby even if they stopped and squinted. Still, is this an image that you would show with pride in your most important state building, especially with no counter narrative or sign of regret?

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As “Thanksgiving” Nears 400, Unitarians Seek “To Make Peace With Our Past”

Just as the year 1992 was controversial, marking the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage, so we will be coming up on a new series of controversial anniversaries. In 2021, many people will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the first “Thanksgiving feast.”

The question is: How do we remember and acknowledge these significant dates? Do we hold onto our cherished myths, or do we look at these as opportunities to embrace our higher selves and acknowledge our painful past?

The Unitarian Universalists already are taking on that question. At their upcoming General Assembly, June 22-26 in Columbus, Ohio, they will consider a resolution to reconsider what “Thanksgiving Day” means, and reflect on the broader issues of colonialism and its brutal impact on indigenous peoples. The resolution reads in part:

WHEREAS the year 2020 marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the ship “Mayflower” in the region that is now known as New England; and …
WHEREAS several of the New England congregations that were established during the 1600s continue today as Unitarian Universalist congregations; and NOTING the role of Unitarian Universalists in developing the holiday that is known as “the American Thanksgiving Day”; …

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that this General Assembly encourages all Unitarian Universalists to enter a time of education, careful reflection, and healing, for the years 2016-2021. We ask that special attention be given to the suffering, indignity, and loss that native peoples have suffered since the early 1600s.

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