Minnesota Working to Change Flag
A state commission in Minnesota is currently engaged in the design of a new state flag and seal. This initiative is in response to concerns over the present emblem, which many view as offensive to Native Americans.
Minnesota’s state flag predominantly features its state seal set against a blue backdrop. This seal showcases a Native American riding into the sunset while a white settler cultivates his field, his rifle propped up against a nearby stump. Many interpret this imagery as insinuating the departure and defeat of the Indigenous population, juxtaposed with the permanence and victory of the white settlers.
This representation isn’t just a point of contention for the state’s Dakota and Ojibwe tribes. Vexillologists, experts in flag study, critique its complexity. The North American Vexillological Association sets out guidelines for flag designs, emphasizing simplicity, limited colors, distinctiveness from a distance, and the exclusion of seals or textual content. Based on these standards, Minnesota’s current flag ranks 67th out of 72 flags from the U.S. and Canadian states and provinces. The current design, originating in 1957, evolved from its 1893 predecessor.
Minnesota’s decision to revisit its flag design reflects a broader trend. Utah, for instance, recently adopted a streamlined flag that still embodies the beehive, an emblem of the state’s history and the industrious Mormon pioneers. In 2020, Mississippians voted for a new state flag, integrating a magnolia and the words “In God We Trust”, replacing its previous Confederate-inspired flag that was associated with the Ku Klux Klan and widely criticized for its racist undertones. Other states contemplating flag redesigns are Maine, which is considering a simplistic pine tree and blue North Star design, along with Michigan and Illinois.
Earlier this year, the Democratic-majority Minnesota Legislature assigned this redesign task to a commission. This body comprises representatives from the state’s tribal groups and other communities of color. The commission has been given a deadline of January 1 to present new designs for the flag and seal. If these designs aren’t opposed by the Legislature, they will be officially adopted on April 1, 2024, a day Minnesota celebrates as Statehood Day.
“What I am looking forward to is creating a flag that we can all be proud of, and a flag that everybody can look at and say: ”Yeah, that’s Minnesota’s flag. That’s a cool flag. That’s very distinctive,” said Anita Gall, the vice chair of the commission and a state history instructor at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington.
State seals, which can be more complex than flags and are used, among other things, to stamp official papers, according to Democratic Rep. Mike Freiberg of Golden Valley, who helped draft the law establishing the new symbols.
Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon, a panel member, highlighted that part of his official tasks includes being the guardian of the state seal. “These are enduring symbols and emblems meant to last not just decades, but one or more centuries,” Simon said. “And so it’s a big responsibility.”
A pair of Republicans who hold non-voting seats on the panel asked the members to choose designs that would serve as unifying emblems.
Since outnumbered soldiers from Minnesota staged a crucial charge that helped hold the Union line against advancing Confederate forces at the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War, Rep. Bjorn Olson of Fairmont said the change will be difficult for him as a student of history and a captain in the Army Reserve. He said that the 1st Minnesota Infantry Regiment sustained significant losses while bearing a flag that resembled the present design.
“I know that there’s many Minnesotans that think we need a new flag and there’s many that don’t,” said Sen. Steve Drazkowski, of Mazeppa. “Obviously, the decision is made — we’re going to have a new flag. And so my goal going forward ... is that we have a flag that doesn’t represent one idea or one ideology or one anything, but represents all of Minnesota.”