From the Boston Globe, November 25, 2004


It was a symbolic move, but an important one for a city that prides itself on diversity, according to Mayor Thomas M. Menino: Yesterday, the mayor asked the Legislature to repeal the 1675 Indian Imprisonment Act, the Colonial law authorizing the arrest of American Indians who enter the city of Boston.The law, enacted during the bloody conflict known as King Philip's War, has not been enforced for centuries. Armed guards no longer stand at the outskirts of Boston, as the law has stipulated for nearly 330 years, on the lookout for Native Americans who might seek entry into the city. Indians in Boston are no longer required to be escorted around town by two Musketeers. And yet, the Legislature has never gotten around to taking the law off the books.

"The Indian Imprisonment Act was made to discriminate, made to intimidate, and this law has no place in Boston," Menino said. "As long as it remains on the books, this law will tarnish our image." Its repeal, the mayor said, "will send the message that hate and discrimination have no place in our city." Menino, who speaks often of his pride in Boston's diversity and tolerance, announced that he had signed a home-rule petition asking to repeal the law the day before Thanksgiving, the holiday honoring cooperation between colonists and Native Americans. "Some of you people have been illegal for a long time," he joked to the dozen or so members of regional tribes on hand for the ceremony.

Native Americans who stood behind Menino at a City Hall ceremony yesterday applauded the mayor's effort to remove the archaic legislation. "It really does break down another barrier," said Joanne Dunn, executive director of the North American Indian Center of Boston, and a member of the Nipmuc tribe. "It's one of those things, maybe it's not enforced, but there's always something in the back of your mind that makes you feel unwelcome. It's a reminder of the past. This brings some closure to our people."

"This is a great step forward by the mayor's office, to recognize the efforts of Indian tribal governments to address the legacy left over from 350 years ago," said Gary McCann, policy adviser for the Muhheconnew National Confederacy, which represents coastal tribes from Delaware to Maine.

The law was enacted during a conflict that began as an Indian uprising in which hundreds of colonists were killed, and ended with the deaths of thousands of American Indians and the virtual elimination of several tribes. Metacomet, chief of the Wampanoag Indians, whom settlers called King Philip, was shot and killed 14 months after the war began, by an American Indian paid by the English. His death effectively ended the war in southern New England, fully opening Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island to colonization, though raids continued elsewhere until the American Revolution.

The law reads, in part: "We find that there still remains ground of Fear, that unless more effectual Care be taken, we may be exposed to mischief by some of that Barbarous Crew, or any Strangers not of our Nation, by their coming into, or residing in the Town of Boston." It provided for a guard to be posted "at the end of said Town towards Roxbury, to hinder the coming in of any Indian, until Application be first made to the Governour, or Council if fitting, and then to be admitted with a Guard of two Musqueteers, and to be remanded back with the same Guard, not to be suffered to lodge in Town, unless in Prison."

McCann, whose group has been working on a repeal for eight years, applauded the mayor for yesterday's ceremony, saying it helped raise the profile of the issue. "One thing we didn't want was to do it in the middle of the night ," McCann said. "This allows us to go over the history and have an idea of why this wasn't dealt with before, and it's a way to provide closure, and part of improving the relationship between the Native American Indian and non-Indian communities."

For repeal, the home-rule petition must be endorsed by the City Council, then approved by the Legislature. The first part of that process should be easy enough: In April 2003, the 13 council members unanimously passed a resolution calling for the repeal. McCann and others tried to get legislators to take up the matter earlier this year, but the lawmakers didn't get to it. He said he was hopeful the mayor's involvement would make the law a higher priority this time around.