Newton’s town seal is disrespectful to Native Americans and should go, sign says

The town hallmark of Newton is hard to miss – the image appears on signs, police uniforms, flags, recycling bins, buildings and tax bills.

But the 150-year-old seal, depicting a white man proselytizing to Native Americans, is disrespectful, historically inaccurate and should be replaced, according to a task force formed by Mayor Ruthanne Fuller.

“In the photo, a colonial authority is telling a people that their ways of life and worship are wrong,” the Newton City Seal Working Group concluded in its report. “Certainly, most Newtonians would not want a symbol of cultural arrogance to represent their city of many religions and cultures.”

Fuller launched the city seal overhaul more than a year ago, as many Massachusetts communities reconsidered the use of Native American imagery in logos and for local sports teams.

Fuller said she began redesigning the city seal during her first term and wondered if the image represented the city’s current identity, spirit and values.

“I think a lot of us are taking a hard look at expressions of white supremacy and systemic racism across the city,” Fuller said in a 2020 interview. Native Americans and their allies.

The seal, versions of which have been in use since 1865, features a 17th century scene of John Eliot delivering a sermon to members of the Massachuset tribe atop Nonantum Hill in what is now Newton Corner.

The task force solicited feedback on the seal through an online survey, public meeting and letters from community members, including local Indigenous leaders, according to the report.

Natick Nipmuc Tribe President Maria Turner criticized the seal imagery in a letter included in the panel’s report.

“I have concerns about John Eliot’s appearance and his irresistible stance towards Indigenous personalities. Whether he’s holding a bible or a scroll, it always gives the appearance of some sort of tool being used to marginalize a group of people,” Turner said.

Dr. Larry Fisher, chief sachem of the Mattakeeset Massachuset Tribe, told the task force he was troubled by the seal. He criticized the appearance of “helpless Indians” who lack self-confidence.

“But if you look at our language… It’s about being very sure of who we are [and] where we come from,” Fisher said, according to the report.

According to the report, a large majority of community respondents recommended that the seal be redesigned. The task force said the photo of the seal lacked historical context and accuracy.

The scene “glorifies the arrogant concept of devaluing a culture and trying to change that culture’s view of the sacred, its traditions, customs and daily way of life,” the panel said.

Eliot’s mission, representing the church and state of the Bay Colony and England, was to “cajole or impose a way of life on the people who have lived here for thousands of years,” says The report. “The work of these early missionaries and their government counterparts has been called ‘cultural genocide’ by historians.”

The seal image, according to the report, “is disrespectful to the Massachuset tribe, on whose lands we live and whose ancestors have suffered violence and degradation, and to people of all backgrounds who shun proselytizing and the work of conversion”.

The task force also called for other changes, including the removal of the word Nonantum from the seal. The word does not refer to the current village in the city that bears the name, and its use creates confusion, according to the report.

In a statement earlier this month, Fuller said she had sought City Council’s approval to move forward with the task force’s recommendation. Once approved, the city will seek to hire a graphic design firm to come up with an updated design.

The working group came up with guidelines for this design work, and community feedback will be used to refine and improve design options, she said. The city council should ultimately approve a new municipal seal.

John Hilliard can be contacted at [email protected]

Nohemi M. Moore