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Group Calls For Change In Massachusetts State Flag, Ban On Native American Mascots At Public Schools

BOSTON (CBS) – A group of Native Americans is calling for a series of changes, including one to the Massachusetts state flag.

Native Americans, supporters and lawmakers held a rally on the steps of the Massachusetts Statehouse Thursday morning to make their case. They say any authentic efforts to address racial justice need to include and respect the voices of indigenous people.

"We've been working on this for a long time for many years and to finally have the support of our representatives is huge," said Faries Gray of the Massachusetts Tribe at Ponkapoag.

Organizers are calling for lawmakers to pass three bills.

Massachusetts State Flag
The Massachusetts state flag. (WBZ-TV)

The first would create a special commission to review the state flag. The group argues it's racist because it shows a Native American with a sword over his head.

They also want lawmakers to pass a bill banning public schools from using Native American mascots, arguing those are de-humanizing. The group is also backing legislation that would return Native American artifacts to the tribal community.

State Sen. Joanne Comerford is sponsoring the bill that would ban the use of Native American mascots.

"Research has shown that these kinds of mascots are both dehumanizing, especially Native American youths, but actually they perpetuate very negative, harmful stereotypes that hurt everybody," she said.

protest (1)
Protesters at the Massachusetts Statehouse. (WBZ-TV)

Some school districts in the state are already going ahead and changing their mascots.

"We have to work on building acceptance," said Laura Often of the Grafton School Committee. On Tuesday, the Grafton School Committee unanimously voted to no longer use an Indian. Students will now work with staff to come up with a new mascot.

"Overwhelming support from the community who really do understand that the continued use of a race-based mascot it stands against the very fiber of what we should be installing in our children and our students," Often said.

The three pieces of legislation would need to be passed by the end of the Beacon Hill session, which is July 31.

Baker said he would be "open" to conversations about changing certain symbols.

"There's a conversation that's going on in states and municipalities, and in some cases at the national level, about many symbols and historical emblems," said Baker. "If people here in Massachusetts want to pursue discussions with respect to some of those, we'd be open to talking to them about it. Obviously it's the sort of thing that would have to be done in conjunction with our colleagues in the legislature as well."

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