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Monday, July 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Minnesota commission unveils new state flag

The new design seeks to address aesthetic and racial-sensitivity concerns with the state's original 1858 flag.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — Following a lengthy and much-discussed planning process, a Minnesota commission has selected the final design for a new state flag they say “was designed by Minnesota.” 

The flag features an eight-pointed North Star on a K-shaped dark blue background, with a light blue field on its right side. It’s derived chiefly from a proposal submitted by Andrew Prekker, a designer from the southwestern Minnesota city of Luverne, but includes elements from other submissions. 

“It’s such a rare privilege to be able to contribute to our state’s history and sauce in such a special way like this,” Prekker wrote in an email read aloud at a commission meeting. “I’m so proud to be able to say I helped design the new Minnesota state flag.” 

The flag no longer features the name of the state, but “it still says Minnesota in two ways — in the shape and in the star,” commission chair Luis Fitch said, responding to concerns raised by commission member and Republican state Senator Steve Drazkowski from Mazeppa, of the decision to skip the name.

“Minnesota is water, Minnesota is rivers, Minnesota is this star. Here’s the shape of Minnesota,” Fitch said, referencing the K-shaped curve of the state. “We don’t have to write ‘Minnesota’ anymore. This is Minnesota.” 

The new flag design will still need approval from the Legislature. If approved, the new flag is scheduled to start flying on May 11, 2024, the anniversary of Minnesota’s statehood. 

Minnesota’s existing flag is simple, featuring the state seal against a light blue background. That simplicity, the somewhat cluttered appearance of the seal and its similarity to several similarly-designed Midwestern flags have made it a frequent target of online clowning. The flag has also created concerns about racial insensitivity. 

Both flag and seal have been redesigned by the State Emblems Redesign Commission, established earlier this year and appointed by a variety of state officials. A slate of six basic design templates, selected from over 2,000 submissions from around the state, were put forth for public comment late in November alongside five designs for a new state seal. 

The new seal has already been chosen. It features the state bird, the common loon, beneath the Dakota name from which the state takes its name: “Mni Sóta Makoc̣e," which translates to "land where the waters reflect the sky." The Dakota inhabited much of southern and central Minnesota prior to white settlement and are still one of the state’s largest Native American groups, along with the Ojibwe, who live more in the state's north. 

The old seal, which featured a barefoot white farmer and a spear-wielding Native American on horseback beneath the state’s motto, “L’Etoile du Nord" — French for “The North Star" — was adopted when Minnesota became a state in 1858. It has been modified several times since, most recently in 1983, but still depicts the same scene. 

In recent years, criticism of the existing seal and the flag that bears it has escalated, including complaints that it is racist, outdated and just plain ugly. Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, has refused to use the seal on official documents and denounced it as discriminatory toward Native Americans. 

“It’s literally a Native person being driven off their land,” Flanagan told the New York Times earlier this year. “It’s horrific.” 

The seal faced similar concerns when it was first designed in 1858 by Army Captain Seth Eastman. Territorial Governor Alexander Ramsey had previously used a design which featured a Native family handing a ceremonial pipe to a white settler, and historians have said he was concerned that Eastman’s new seal, championed by Minnesota’s first congressional representative and later governor Henry Sibley, was too overtly hostile to the state’s Native tribes. 

Eastman’s wife, Mary Eastman, penned a poem about the seal which lent credence to that interpretation: “The red man’s course is onward–/ Nor stayed his footsteps be,/ Till by his rugged hunting ground/ Beats the relentless sea!/ We claim his noble heritage/ And Minnesota’s land/ Must pass with all its untold wealth/ To the white man’s grasping hand.” 

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