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Time for a rebrand? House lawmakers consider measure to redesign MN's flag, seal

HF284 calls for a State Emblems Redesign Commission to develop, design and recommend a new state flag and state seal. (House Photography file photo)
HF284 calls for a State Emblems Redesign Commission to develop, design and recommend a new state flag and state seal. (House Photography file photo)

Are Minnesota’s state seal and flag easily recognizable? Are they too cluttered? Do they need to go away?

No, yes and maybe.

Those answers are based on a bill calling for a State Emblems Redesign Commission to “develop, design, and recommend to the legislature and governor a new design for the official state seal and a new design for the official state flag … that accurately and respectfully reflect Minnesota's shared history, resources, and diverse cultural communities.”

HF284, as amended, was approved Tuesday by the House State Government Finance and Elections Committee along party lines and sent to the House Ways and Means Committee.

“The state seal has imagery on it that is a problem, to put it charitably,” said Rep. Mike Freiberg (DFL-Golden Valley), the bill sponsor.

He cited a July 3, 2020 commentary in the Minneapolis Star Tribune in which a Minnesota-born Duke University professor is quoted as saying the state seal “shows a white farmer behind a plow, tilling the soil. He’s looking up to watch an Indian ride away on a horse. In the original, he’s literally riding into the sunset. The Indian looks back at the white man. As far as you can tell, he’s leaving willingly.”

The commentary writer, Mark Grindy, a senior director at West Wing Writers, then adds, “This is not an attempt to honor our heritage or history, but to erase it. The truth is, state-sponsored violence against people of color is not merely part of Minnesota history but central to it.”

Freiberg said Secretary of State Steve Simon supports the bill, which calls for a report to the Legislature and governor by Jan. 1, 2023.

Per the bill, “The legislature intends to hold necessary votes on adoption of the state emblems redesign commission's recommended designs during the 2023 regular session in an effort to ensure that a new official state seal and a new official state flag may each be adopted and become effective no later than May 11, 2023. The legislature is encouraged to adopt procedures that allow for the current official state flag and official state seal to be retired and replaced in a respectful manner, and its history preserved in an appropriate location on the State Capitol complex.”

The 14-member commission would include four legislators, three gubernatorial appointed public members, two members appointed by the Indian Affairs Council, one appointed from each of the state’s three ethnic councilsCouncil on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans, Council on Latino Affairs, Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage —  and one member representing the Dakota community and one representing the Ojibwe community.

Rep. Peter Fischer (DFL-Maplewood) said concerns about the state flag were brought to him in 2017 by a pair of high school students.

“The flag of Minnesota fails every (North American Vexillological Association) guideline. The design is not simple: no child could draw it from memory. Furthermore, the flag uses 7 colors, more than the three or four typically recommended, and contains a prominently placed seal. This overly complicated design obfuscates any symbolism the flag intends to convey. Writing ‘Minnesota’ on the flag only makes the problem worse, as effective flags need not write the name of the region they represent to invoke their meaning. Finally, to the average person, Minnesota’s flag is indistinguishable from 19 other state flags, all blue backgrounds with overly detailed state seals,” wrote Thomas Atkins.

[MORE: Visual aid offered by Atkins]

We could develop a unique design that people will be able to see and draw from memory, and one that people from other parts of the country would immediately recognize as Minnesota, Fischer said.

No Republicans voiced reasons for their dissent before the committee vote.

Sen. Mary Kunesh (DFL-New Brighton) sponsors the companion, SF847. It awaits action by the Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee.

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