by Dennis Dalman
It’s official: Minnesota now has a new state flag and a new state seal, but the flag has many Minnesotans feeling indifferent or dissatisfied.
Reports are popping up across the state from people who dislike the flag’s abstract simplicity and its lack of pictorial images or symbols: the state bird (the loon) and pine trees – to name just two examples.
The new flag features a wedge of dark blue on its left side in the center of which is an eight-pointed white star that is supposed to signify the state’s diverse heritage. The dark blue is intended to represent a night sky. The shape of the dark blue area is meant to suggest – abstractly – the shape of the east side of Minnesota. On the right side is a large expanse of unadorned light blue, supposedly symbolizing the state’s many lakes and streams.
The flag was inspired by a flag design submitted by Andrew Prekker of Luverne. His design was honored as the best of 2,128 submissions. Prekker’s design, however, was tweaked and simplified. It had included three horizontal wide bands on the right side – the colors light blue, white and green. His star, symbolizing the “North Star State,” was smaller than the one on the new flag.
The new flag and new state seal were the culmination of a four-month process that included a design contest for the public, along with lots of public input. On Dec. 27, the State Emblems Redesign Commission issued its final report. The new flag and seal will debut throughout the state on May 11, which is Minnesota Statehood Day.
The seal, which has garnered more widespread approval than the flag, displays pictorial symbolism: a black loon, its eye red, rising from water; three yellow stems of wild rice; ripples of lake water (dark blue, light blue); two green stylized pine-tree symbols; a white North Star; and on the top the words “Mini Sota Makoce,” a phrase that means (in the Native American Dakota language) “Land of Sky-Tinted Water.” Around the edge of the seal are the words, in capital letters: “THE GREAT SEAL OF THE STATE OF MINNESOTA.”
The original design, submitted by Twin Cities artist Ross Brubbink, was voted “best” by the Redesign Commission from among 339 submissions. Brubbink’s submission is quite like the final, tweaked design, although his was mainly done in two colors only (dark blue and bronze).
The state seal is used on official state documents and other publications.
The Redesign Commission was comprised of 13 voting members and four non-voting members. It included three members of the general public, the Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, State Sen. Mary Kunesh (non-voting member), State Sen. Steve Drazkowski (non-voting member) State Rep. Mike Freiberg (non-voting member), State Rep. Bjorn Olson (non-voting member) and officials from a diverse array of interests, such as the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Minnesota Historical Society, the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans, the Council on Latino Affairs and the State Capitol Area Architecture and Planning Board.
The Redesign Commission’s Final Report was released Dec. 27. Three commission members issued a 29-page Minority Report that was critical of the final designs, claiming too many commission members brushed off input and criticisms from the public and of changing the state’s long-time motto “L’Etoile du Nord” (French for Star of the North”) to “Mini Sota Makoce.” The report also disagreed with removing Minnesota’s year of statehood (1858) from the state seal. Those who released the Minority Report were two of the non-voting members Drazkowski and Olson; and a voting member, Aaron Wittnebel, who is a commissioner for the Ojibwe Community.
The inception for a new flag and seal came about earlier in 2023 when it was decided by the State Legislature that the previous state flag design was a bit too visually cluttered and verged on disrespect for Native Americans. In the center of the blue flag was a circle depicting a male settler plowing land and in the background a Native American man riding a horse and the year of statehood (1858). It also contained the motto “L’Etoile du Nord,” a French phrase in honor of the French Voyageurs (travelers, trappers, traders) who explored the area that later became Minnesota.
That flag was commissioned in 1893, and its design was altered somewhat in 1957 and again in 1983.