Politics and Government

Let it wave: Minnesota’s new flag takes flight

A man hoists a flag on a flagpole
Charlie Krueger, ground supervisor for facilities management, raises the new Minnesota state flag at the State Capitol for the first time on Saturday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Updated: May 12, 3 p.m. | Posted: May 11, 6:57 a.m.

As the sun came up over the Minnesota Capitol on Saturday morning, the state’s new flag rose for the first time for Statehood Day.

Capitol workers lowered the former flag — a dark blue banner with the seal depicting a farmer and a Native American man riding into the distance at the center — just before dawn.

They handed off the banner to a pair of Minnesota National Guard members on the Capitol steps who folded it and marched it down the mall. It was handed off to the Minnesota Historical Society after it was retired.

Around 5:45 a.m., the new banner was hoisted up the flagpole for the first time. A small crowd gathered on the Capitol roof cheered. Down below, a group of about 20 looked on as the flag above the Statehouse went up in unison with a twin flag near the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“This is history happening right before my eyes,” said Anita Gaul, the Vice Chair of the Minnesota Emblems Redesign Commission. “And here I am. I’m part of it.”

The flag’s dark blue is meant to represent the sky with an eight-pointed star of the north evoking Minnesota’s motto. The light blue represents Minnesota’s abundant waters.

A blue flag waves above the Capitol building
The redesigned Minnesota state flag flies above the State Capitol for the first time.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Gaul said the design is meant to be simple enough for a child to draw and charged with symbolism.

The state emblem redesign commission ditched images of people on Minnesota’s state seal altogether in favor of the state bird — the common loon — shown preening on a lake, along with the Dakota phrase Mni Sóta Makoce will be at the top. 

What happens now?

Beginning Saturday, about 120 state flags scattered across the Capitol complex will be among the first to get swapped out. During a sunrise ceremony, the first two made their appearance atop the Capitol building and outside the Veterans Service Building.

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 kept flying the old flag in protest.

Brad Koenig is a retired social studies teacher from Hector. He says he followed the redesign process but was disappointed by the final product.

“What in this new flag suggests to you (that it’s) Minnesota?” Koenig said. “It’s — to me — blasé — it doesn't jump out at me at all.”

A man hoists a flag on a flagpole
Charlie Krueger, ground supervisor for facilities management, raises the new Minnesota state flag at the State Capitol.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

He said voters should get a chance to weigh in on whether Minnesota keeps the new banner or goes back to the drawing board. And for now, he plans to keep the old one hanging in his home.

The changeover is a cause of celebration for seminary student Erik Nelson. The 27-year-old plans to host a Statehood Day theme party — with a heavy emphasis on the new flag — Saturday.

“I hope that we’re all just able to celebrate the state and the wonderful things about Minnesota. The state that Minnesota is today and the state that we hope it will be in the future,” Nelson said. “And I hope that the new flag helps us to get to a beautiful future.”

How did we get here?

The transition comes after the Minnesota Legislature last year set up a commission to redesign the state’s emblems. After 10 separate tries to pass a bill calling for a new state flag and seal design, the DFL-led Legislature cleared the proposal and Gov. Tim Walz signed it into law.

In the months that followed, thousands of entries flooded in with designs ranging from laser-eyed loons, to photos of a dog, to jokes about hot dish and mosquitoes to professional grade mock-ups.

After weeks of deliberation, the 13-member panel picked a finalist and finessed it to include a dark blue K-shape to the left with a white eight-point star inside and a light blue band to the right.

It also approved a state seal design showing a common loon with wild rice and a pine tree in the background. The state motto and founding year were left out in favor of the Dakota phrase from which Minnesota’s name originated.

State law called for the emblems to take hold on Saturday — in honor of the 165th anniversary of Minnesota Statehood.

At a statehood day reception on Saturday afternoon, Secretary of State Steve Simon awarded NASS Medallions to the two young artists who submitted the designs inspiring the new emblems.

“It is such an honor and a privilege. I’m just so ecstatic to be able to contribute to part of Minnesota’s history in such an important way,” said Andrew Prekker, the flag designer. The now 25-year-old is from Luverne. He attended the reception with his mother and brother.

“It’s been kind of crazy, honestly. You know, I was just a small-town Minnesota guy and now I’m here at the Capitol and there’s so much attention on me that I’m just not used to. But, you know, it’s an exciting opportunity and I’m just grateful to be part of it,” Prekker said.

Is this the first time Minnesota has changed its emblems? (Cue the history lesson)

No, it’s not. Minnesota first adopted a state flag and seal in 1893. The design was submitted to a contest at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and won first prize.

The silk flag was blue on one side and white on the other with a seal at the center showing a farmer working the land and a Native American man riding into the distance.

The image was framed by lady slipper flowers and a banner that said “Minnesota.’ And above it read, “L’Étoile du Nord,” the French phrase for star of the north.

That seal stemmed from a watercolor seal first put forward by then territorial Gov. Alexander Ramsey and fur trader Henry Sibley. It was used in an unofficial capacity for decades before the 

Minnesota Legislature adopted that flag and seal in 1893.

A poem written by the wife of one of the artists who painted the seal said it was a representation of Manifest Destiny, intended to be an allegory of oncoming progress and civilization, and the removal of native people from the landscape. 

“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 Minnesota Historical Society Director of Research William Convery.

Convery said the first flag didn’t take off with the public. The two-sheet silk design made it expensive and prone to ripping, he said.

In 1957, the state Legislature appointed a redesign commission to simplify the flag. 

“That version actually looks more like the flag we have now. It has the blue background, with the state seal on it and more simplified imagery around it. It was less expensive to make, it was sturdier,” Convery said. “It was a flag that more people were willing to actually invest money in to actually fly.” 

A blue flag waves above the Capitol building
The old Minnesota state flag is lowered from atop the Capitol before being delivered to the Minnesota Historical Society for preservation.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

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.

The emblems got another revamp in the 1980s, as well as a new descriptor that states the native rider on horseback faces due south and “represents the great Indian heritage of Minnesota.” 

Convery said that concerns about the seal and the intent behind it spurred more calls for a redesign.

While the move to the current design is the most recent, 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,” he said. “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.”

What happens to the old flags and seals?

Many will be archived and saved at the Minnesota Historical Society. Secretary of State Steve Simon earlier this week began taking down large wooden seals around his office.

Older models of the seal sat along the floor next to the newer ones that would replace them.

“It’s going to usher in a new era,” Simon said. “I think this is something that Minnesotans are already uniting behind.”

In his role, Simon is the official keeper of the seal by law. The state seal is used on election certificates, business certifications and other official state documents.

While weighty metal seals were previously used to imprint the design on certificates and documents, the state has moved to more electronic and sticker seals.

Aman holds a state seal
Secretary of State Steve Simon holds up a new state seal set to be hung up in his office on Wednesday.
Dana Ferguson | MPR News

MPR News reporter Feven Gerezgiher contributed to this report.

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