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.”

Right.

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.

massachusetts-seal-close-up
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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Official Government Seals and Their Painful Mythologies

We have been reviewing art in state capitols and the hidden stories of domination and conquest, and one of the interesting sub-genres are the artwork and mottoes on state seals.

A government seal is an important thing. It is an emblem, figure or symbol that tells the reader that this document is official and authentic. It says a lot about how a people (well, at least people in power) see themselves.

Battle Creek 1I was inspired to do a recap of official government seals when I saw a news item on the City Seal of Battle Creek, a Michigan town of about 52,000. From what I remember watching television as a kid, Battle Creek is where Kellogg’s Corn Flakes come from. The City motto doesn’t disappoint, it reads: “Breakfast Capital of the World.” The major images are a traditional Native man (with feathers), a surveyor mapping the land, a sail boat and a city skyline.

WMUK, Western Michigan University’s radio station, just ran an item on its webpage headlined: “Uncovering the Real Battle Creek City Seal.” It said the city seal you see above was adopted in 1981 for promotional purposes, something to use for things like city vehicles and public flyers. But it was never intended to replace the original seal — which shows a white surveyor clubbing a Native American. That’s still the official seal used for official business. But it seems city officials are embarrassed by it, because you can’t find the image on the city’s webpage. (Click here of the official seal, shown on a stained glass window.) Continue reading