A state commission went to work Tuesday designing a new state flag and seal for Minnesota to replace a current emblem considered offensive to Native Americans.
One of the main elements of the Minnesota state flag includes a prominent state seal on a blue background. The stamp depicts a Native American riding into the sunset while a white settler plows his field with his rifle resting on a nearby stump. The images suggest to many that the indigenous peoples were defeated and left, while the whites won and stayed.
Not only do the state’s Dakota and Ojibwe tribes find that offensive, but experts in the scientific and academic study of flags, known as vexillology, say it’s too complicated a design.
The North American Vexillological Association guidelines say flags should be simple but meaningful, with only a few colors, easily recognizable from a distance, and without seals or lettering. The association ranks Minnesota 67th out of 72 US and Canadian state and provincial flags. The Minnesota design dates from 1957, an evolution of the 1893 original.
Minnesota is joining several other states in redesigning flags that haven’t stood the test of time. Last winter, the Utah Legislature approved a simplified flag design that still includes a beehive, a symbol of the prosperity and industriousness of the Mormon pioneers who settled in the state. In 2020, Mississippi voters elected a new state flag featuring a magnolia and the phrase “In God We Trust” to replace a Confederate-themed flag that had been used by Ku Klux Klan groups and was widely condemned as racist.
The Minnesota state flag is under renovation due to Native American concerns. PA
Other states considering simplifying their flags include Maine, where voters will decide next year whether to replace their current banner with a retro version featuring a simple pine tree and blue Pole Star, as well as Michigan and Illinois.
Earlier this year, the Democratic-controlled Minnesota Legislature tasked its commission, which includes representatives from the state’s tribal and colored communities, with producing new designs for the flag and seal by January 1. Unless the Legislature rejects them, the new emblems will automatically become official on April 1, 2024, which Minnesota observes as Statehood Day.
“What I hope is to create a flag that we can all be proud of, and a flag that everyone can look at and say, ‘Yeah, that’s the Minnesota flag. That’s a cool flag. That’s very distinctive,” said commission Vice Chair Anita Gall, who teaches state history at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington.
Unlike flags, state seals, which are used among other things to stamp official documents, can be more complex, said Rep. Mike Freiberg, D-Golden Valley, who authored the legislation for the new emblems.
Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon, who is on the panel, noted that one of his official duties is to serve as custodian of the state seal. “These are durable symbols and emblems intended to last not just decades, but one or more centuries,” Simon said. “And so it’s a big responsibility.”
Two Republican lawmakers with non-voting seats on the panel urged their colleagues to choose designs that are unifying symbols.
Rep. Bjorn Olson of Fairmont said the change will be difficult for him, as a student of history and as an Army Reserve captain, because Minnesota’s outnumbered soldiers mounted a critical charge that helped hold the line. Union against advancing Confederate forces. at the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. The 1st Minnesota Infantry Regiment suffered heavy casualties while flying a flag similar to the current design, he said.
“I know there are a lot of Minnesotans who think we need a new flag and a lot of people who don’t,” said Sen. Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa. “Obviously, the decision has already been made: we are going to have a new flag. And so my goal going forward … is that we have a flag that doesn’t represent an idea or an ideology or something like that, but represents all of Minnesota.”