Minnesota readies for its flag switch as old banner comes down

Published 5:05 pm Friday, May 10, 2024

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By Dana Ferguson

Minnesota will mark its Statehood Day on Saturday by changing its look — namely, the flag that’s been flying outside buildings and the seal that’s adorned podiums and paperwork for generations.

The deep blue flag with the state seal in the middle will be brought down the poles outside Capitol buildings — and some other places around Minnesota — for the last time. And a new-look flag that emerged from thousands of public design submissions will take its place.

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The roughly 120 state flags scattered across the Capitol complex will be among the first to get swapped out. Local governments will be able to make the adjustment on their own time. Some people have already put the new banner up outside their houses, but others have only begun flying the old flag in protest.

“I like that it has the shape of Minnesota as like the main design feature. I like the colors, the dark blue and the light blue,” said Erik Nelson, a 27-year-old who submitted a new design for the flag last year along with thousands of Minnesotans.

While Nelson’s idea wasn’t picked, he’s planning a get-together to mark the conversion.

“It’s essentially a Minnesota Statehood Day party,” he said. “But it’s especially to celebrate the new flag.”

The new flag has a dark blue K-shaped figure to the left. There’s a white eight-point star within the shape that’s meant to mimic Minnesota. To the right, light blue fills the remainder.

The new seal features Minnesota’s state bird — the common loon — preening on a lake. The Dakota phrase Mni Sóta Makoce will be at the top.

Not everyone has warmed to the new design.

Republican Rep. Bjorn Olson, of Fairmont, served on a legislatively created redesign commission made up of ethnic council representatives, marketing professions, historians and others.

Olson was among the legislators who were part of the conversation but didn’t have a vote. He said Minnesota voters should have had a chance to approve the banner before it takes flight.

“Thirteen people who could vote on that commission. They don’t have the right to tell everyone what represents them,” Olson said. “Just ask the Minnesotans, do you like the flag? Do you think it represents you appropriately? And if not, let’s go back to the drawing board.”

The law approved in 2023 that called for the change said the new emblems would become official on May 11 — Statehood Day — unless the Legislature blocked them. That didn’t happen.

The flag and seal last underwent a revamp in the 1980s. Beginning in the 1960s, civil rights activists raised concerns about a seal that depicted a farmer working the land while a Native American man rode off into the distance.

“For the artists who created the seal this is intended to be an allegory of oncoming progress and civilization, and the removal of Native people from the landscape,” said William Convery,  director of research at the Minnesota Historical Society. “So that debate has been going on since at least the Civil Rights era, at least 1968. And up to and through today.”

As for the seal, the old one also had the French words “L’Étoile du Nord,” which translates into “Star of the North.”

“The old seal will always have a place in our history. We’re not looking to airbrush that out,” said Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, a member of the redesign commission and by law the official keeper of the seal. “But I think this is a really useful and positive pivot point to a set of emblems and depictions and symbols that will really represent all of us.”

Convery said it may not be the last time Minnesotans make a change.

“Maybe in another 100 years, we’ll be looking at it again. And as a historian, I think that’s okay. I think as long as we document where we’ve come from, it’s always good to think about where we want to go forward.”

Some are ready to lock it in permanently. Jimbo Tarpey, 34, has had a tattoo of the state on his back since 2010. But he waited to fill it in until the new flag emerged.

“I basically said if I’m going to fill this up, people always say put some trees in there or put this in there, put something in there,” he said. “I basically said I’m not putting anything in there until we get a new flag.”

As for Nelson, he’s excited about the arrival of the new flag. For his party, he encouraged guests to make Minnesota-themed foods and dress the part.

“One person I think she’s coming dressed as a loon. Some people I know are coming dressed like based on the flag,” Nelson said. “My boyfriend and I are being Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.”

MPR News reporter Nicole Ki contributed to this article.