Metro, Politics, Newton

Newton to Move Forward on Updating City Seal, Pending City Council Approval

After almost a year and a half since the first convention of an Ad Hoc City Seal Working Group, Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller requested for the Newton City Council to approve to proceed with the process of updating the Newton city seal.

“[Currently] pictured is a colonial authority telling a people that their ways of living and worshiping are wrong,” Fuller wrote in a mayor’s update on Feb. 17. “Certainly, most Newtonians would not want a symbol of cultural arrogance to represent their city made up of many faiths and cultures.”

The Town of Newton adopted the seal in 1865, and Newton retained the seal when it established itself as a city in 1873. The seal depicts English missionary John Eliot proselytizing a group of Indigenous people, urging their conversion to Christianity and adoption of English customs.

Eliot achieved his first success in Cohannet, now known as Newton, when he established the Christian settlement he named Nonantum, the working group’s report read. Eliot, however, never lived there himself.

Newton’s decision to depict the scene in its seal was likely due to the post-Civil War popularity of using images of Native Americans to embody an American identity or its representation of the city’s long history, according to the report.

A majority of Newtonians, however, consider the seal’s scene to be offensive and unfaithful to Newton’s self image, according to input gathered from online surveys, public meetings, and letters from community members, the report read.

The report also included opinions that the group solicited from Indigenous groups on the current seal design.

“I feel that it is important [that the seal] … does not make a group of people feel less than when they look at it,” Maria Turner, chairperson of the Natick Nipmuc Tribe, wrote in the report.

Additional feedback also calls for simplification of the design, which would help ease reproduction of the seal, and a quality black-and-white version of the central image for use on official city documents, according to the report.

After reviewing the feedback, the group presented a list of recommendations for the new design. The seal would retain its circular shape and much of the content of the outer rings, but a more suitable image would replace the Eliot scene.

According to the report, environmental themes such as the Charles River are among possible replacements. Other recommended themes include the colors green and blue, community, and well-known buildings and landmarks.

Depending on the chosen image, the group recommended that “Nonantum” be replaced with another Algonquian word, such as “Quinobequin” for the Charles River. The group also recommended that the words “Liberty and Union” be either kept or omitted, depending on the context of the new image.

“Updating the City Seal requires the City Council to vote to amend this Ordinance,” Fuller wrote in the update. “I have requested authorization to move forward with the City Seal Working Group’s recommendation to update the City Seal.”

The City Council referred the request to the Program and Services Committee at its meeting on Tuesday.

Pending the City Council’s approval, the city will submit a proposal to obtain graphic design services, then return to the City Council for funds to hire the designer.

“I anticipate much opportunity for community input for refining and improving the design options before the City Council votes, as they have the ultimate authority on approving a final design,” Fuller wrote in the update.

Featured Image by Aneesa Wermers / Heights Staff

February 26, 2022