WELLFLEET — An appeal from Wellfleet Select Board Chair Ryan Curley to replace the town seal was quickly quashed at the board’s Nov. 1 meeting.
“I don’t know where to start,” board member Kathleen Bacon said of the proposal. “I think this is frivolous and unnecessary.”
Curley had submitted a draft request for funding from the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) to hold a town-wide design contest to replace Wellfleet’s current seal. The seal, which depicts Wampanoag tribe members welcoming a group of Pilgrims, has been described as historically inaccurate and cartoonish in its portrayal of the Native Americans.
“The implication is that [the Pilgrims and Native Americans] encountered each other,” Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum coordinator Sheryl Jaffe said in the project proposal. “They never interacted like that. There was no welcoming party in Wellfleet. The Pilgrims went by Wellfleet but never even landed here.”
The proposal asked for $1,000 in the historic grant category, which would go to the top three winners of the competition.
Bacon saw this as a waste of money. “This isn’t top of the list for me in terms of spending money,” she told Curley.
“A thousand dollars is not very much,” Curley responded. There is typically a surplus in the CPC’s reserves, he told the Independent. “Not all that money is spent in a given year,” he said. So far in 2022, $33,598 remains unexpended.
Bacon also saw no problem with the seal’s depiction of the Wampanoag. “I don’t know what’s wrong with the Indians,” Bacon said. “There is nobody gay in there — that’s one thing that’s wrong.”
“The tribe has raised issues about the depiction,” Curley said. He noted that the project would be following on the heels of other Cape towns including Yarmouth, Mashpee, Sandwich, and Bourne. “I would just add that other towns on the Cape are undergoing replacements of their seals for similar issues,” Curley said.
“Whatever,” Bacon responded.
Board member Barbara Carboni said she hesitated to support the project because she felt it should be a unanimous decision. “If it’s not going to have the support of the whole board, that’s a concern,” she said. “I like for things of this nature to be something we can all agree on.”
The current town seal was created in 1899 after a state law was passed requiring all Massachusetts towns to adopt an official seal. Conversations about town seals have sprung up across the state after a commission to redesign the state seal was established in January 2021. The state seal depicts a Native man standing underneath an arm holding a sword, which represents the colonial military leader Myles Standish.
“Do we want to officially submit this or not?” Curley asked the board. “I think the seal should be replaced. I encourage you to talk to the historical society.”
“I have,” said Bacon. “And I also directed a historical play and produced it on one of our anniversaries.”
The board didn’t budge, and eventually Curley withdrew the proposal.