An Italian-American "convert" to the Indian ethnicity sues to take down his state’s flag.
“This mark of the beast has to go,” Cambridge, Massachusetts activist Daniel DeGuglielmo explained to me. “It’s white supremacy.”
The demonic insignia in question is the official seal of Massachusetts, appearing above state buildings as a seemingly innocuous blue coat of arms amidst a sea, suspiciously, of white. As outlined in the interfaith minister’s $24 million pro se lawsuit against the Commonwealth, the milquetoast blue emblem upon closer inspection reveals words and images destined to run afoul of the denizen of the bluest city in the bluest state.
The seal appears most conspicuously on the state flag. An arguably bellicose and barely visible motto tells everyone with 20/10 vision who understands Latin: “By the Sword We Seek Peace, But Peace Only under Liberty.” The central graphic features a bow-and-arrow-bearing Native American. Above is a sword gripped by a muscular arm, allegedly Miles Standish’s. DeGuglielmo dubs the soldier who accompanied the Pilgrims a “rowdy,” a “murderer,” and “vile.” He notes that the arm is “in the cutting position—it’s ready to strike.” And with a Native American, even if a not-so-defenseless one, beneath the sword, the implication, notes DeGuglielmo, is ominous. “Is it right for the flag of the state of Massachusetts to have an arm and the sword of a murderer?”
DeGuglielmo filed suit in December and received a hearing in a Suffolk County court in early January. He expects his next hearing to determine whether the case will go to trial. One significant hurdle may involve standing. The plaintiff is neither a resident of Suffolk County nor an American Indian, at least in a legal sense. “All my studies and all my interactions with Native Americans produce a spirituality within myself that is Native American Indian,” DeGuglielmo explains. He cites the environmentalism and spirituality of indigenous people as tenets that his soul has embraced. “I am a Native American Indian,” he insists. He likens becoming an Indian to converting to Catholicism. “I am an Italian,” he concedes. “But we’re born here in the Americas.” And as an Indian, the flag imagery can’t help but incense. “They’re my people.”
DeGuglielmo’s suit seeks $24 million for his Sunshine of the America’s Foundation. “I will never accept one cent to my foundation for personal gain,” he notes. Instead, he envisions the bulk of the settlement funding American Indian art programs for high schools and an intercity, Native-themed, cultural exchange. Several hundred thousand dollars of the settlement would purchase new flags for the Commonwealth’s 351 cities and towns.
And what would that new standard look like? If the artist suing the state has any say, it would feature male and female Native Americans holding a puppy. Extending towards this central graphic would be white, yellow, brown, and black arms with various messages of gratitude toward Native Americans inscribed upon them. The interfaith minister implores Massachusetts to “take away all this violence and racism and replace it with art that reflects unity and respect.”
DeGuglielmo’s name may be the only one on the lawsuit but it isn’t the only one behind the sentiment. The Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs seeks a reconsideration of the emblem. State representative Byron Rushing of Boston has worked for several decades to change the state seal. DeGuglielmo cites Rushing’s failure to make headway in the state legislature as inspiration for his attempt to change the seal through the courts.
The seal’s sword-and-Indian imagery combines the Indian on the original seal authorized by Charles I and the Revolutionary-era seal depicting an armed colonist surrounded by the motto advocating liberty and peace through strength. Defenders of the flag contend that the words and imagery have to do with the Revolutionary War and the 17th-century Massachusetts Bay Colony and not with anything that occurred in neighboring Plymouth Colony. Mourt’s Relation, the famous history of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, notes that Miles Standish was instrumental in bringing about a peace treaty between the Pilgrims and Massasoit. The non-Puritan soldier’s military exploits included fending off a pre-dawn Indian attack at a place dubbed “The First Encounter,” and the more controversial ten-man raid on the Narraganset rivals to Massasoit in 1621 and the 1624 preemptive strike on the Indians encroaching upon the doomed Wessagusset outpost. The secretary of state’s history of the Massachusetts seal makes no mention of the depicted arm or broadsword belonging to Standish, who technically never lived within the Massachusetts Bay Colony—Plymouth Colony becoming part of Massachusetts thirty-five years after his death.
The Cambridge activist nevertheless maintains that the Massachusetts flag is a more menacing symbol for Native Americans than the Confederate battle flag is for African Americans or the swastika is for Jews. The born-again Indian maintains that “the sustaining presence of the state seal intimidates me.”
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