Massachusetts Flag Meets 21st Century

A worldwide survey

1.0 – Overview

Figure 1

Figure 2

This survey aimed to form a fact-based opinion on the symbolism of the Massachusetts flag and arms. More specifically, the survey sought the reactions of Native Americans to that symbolism: A sworded arm bearing down on a shield showing an Algonquian Indian, his body at rest, his weapons pointed earthward in a sign of peace (Figure 1). Additionally, the survey asked whether those reactions changed upon viewing the same image complemented by the motto and scroll that appear in the Massachusetts arms and flag (Figure 2).

While the survey aimed to record the reactions of Indians, the comments of non-Indians from across the world was also sought and welcomed.  The survey was conducted over a period of 11 months, from November 2003 to October 2004.

The primary survey vehicle was a blog, which reached a world audience through the courtesy of Flags of the World (FOTW) Director Rob Raeside.

Summarizing the comments, which are recorded here strictly in the chronological order they were received:

• Among Indians, unfavorable comments outweighed favorable ones by 63:17, or 79% unfavorable.

• Among non-Indians, unfavorable comments surpassed favorable ones by 61:26, or 70% unfavorable.

• Among non-Indian Massachusetts residents the ratio were drastically reversed: favorable comments drowned out unfavorable ones by 14:2, or 88% favorable.

• Among non-U.S. residents, unfavorable comments bested favorable ones by 22:1, or 96% unfavorable.

Concluding: How does the symbolism of Massachusetts’ arms and flag, adopted in 1780 and 1915, respectively, hold up to 21st-century sensibilities? It fails, according to the great majority of Indians and non-Indians outside Massachusetts. Thus, a wide segment of respondents (outside Mass.) judged it to be violent, demeaning, war-like and racist. “Filled with early-U.S. genocidal fetishes”, as one respondent phrased it.  Comments from Massachusetts perfectly illustrate the well-known phenomenon of topovexillolatry, the subject of a future essay.

(For a more complete accounting and proposed solutions, see a future issue of NAVA News; watch for it at )