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Things to know about Minnesota’s new, non-racist state flag and seal

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Love it, hate it or yawn at it, Minnesota is set to get a new state flag this spring that echoes its motto of being the North Star State, replacing an old flag that brought up painful memories of conquest and displacement for Native Americans.

During the monthslong selection process, some publicly submitted designs gained cult followings on social media but didn’t make the final cut. They included: a loon – the state bird – with lasers for eyes; a photo of someone’s dog; famous paintings of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln; and an image of a rather large mosquito.

Instead, the flag design adopted in December includes a dark blue shape resembling Minnesota on the left, with a white, eight-pointed North Star on it. On the right is a light blue field that to those involved in the selection process symbolizes the abundant waters that help define the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

The new state seal features a loon amid wild rice, to replace the image of a Native American riding off into the sunset while a white settler plows his field with a rifle at the ready. The seal was a key feature of the old flag, hence the pressure for changing both.

Unless the Legislature votes to reject the new emblems, which seems unlikely, they will become official May 11. Other states are also considering or have already made flag changes. Here are things to know about Minnesota’s new flag and seal, and how the debate unfolded.

WHY THIS DESIGN?

The flag was designed by committee — a commission that included design experts and members of tribal and other communities of color. More than 2,600 proposals were submitted by the public. The commission picked one by Andrew Prekker, 24, of Luverne, as the base design.

The main changes the commission made were rotating the star by 22.5 degrees so it pointed straight north, and replacing the original light blue, white and green stripes with a solid, light blue field. The significance of the light blue area is up to the beholder. The original Dakota name for Minnesota, Mni Sóta Makoce, which will go on the new seal, can be translated as “where the water meets the sky.” The commission’s chairman, Luis Fitch, said that to him, the light blue represents the Mississippi River, which originates in Minnesota, pointing to the North Star.

THE CRITICISM

It’s fair to say that much of the public reaction to the new flag fell into the category of “meh” or worse when the design adoption was announced. But supporters of the new flag hope it will grow on people. It’s not like many people were particularly attached to the old flag.

Some criticism circulated by conservatives has been inaccurate. The flag does not resemble that of Somalia nor of its Puntland region.

While it’s true that both the original design and the Puntland flag had light blue, white and green stripes in the same order, the commission dropped the stripes in favor of simplicity and symmetry. And it’s a stretch to say the final version bears much resemblance to the Somali national flag, which is a solid light blue with a white, five-pointed star right in the center. The state Democratic Party chairman issued a news release taking one GOP lawmaker to task for fueling the spread of the misinformation on social media.

Two Republican lawmakers who were nonvoting members of the commission objected to putting the Dakota name for Minnesota on the seal. They said they will propose letting voters decide up or down this November. That proposal is unlikely to get traction in the Democratic-controlled Legislature. And Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon, a commissioner who backed both designs, said a referendum would probably be unconstitutional.

Additionally, Aaron Wittnebel — a voting member of the commission for the Ojibwe community — said in a minority report last week that adopting the Dakota phrase on the seal “favors the Dakota people over other groups of peoples in Minnesota.”

THE PRAISE

While the new flag might strike some critics as uninspired — and a waste of time and the $35,000 budgeted for the commission — the change is important to many Native Americans in a state where there are 11 federally recognized Ojibwe and Dakota tribes.

“Dare I say anything that’s not a Native person being forced off their land is a flag upgrade?!” tweeted Democratic Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe. “Excited to have a new state flag that represents every Minnesotan.”

Democratic state Sen. Mary Kunesh, a descendant of the Standing Rock Lakota, was a chief author of the bill that launched the redesign and a nonvoting member of the commission. She said in a statement that the more than 2,600 submissions and the lively public debate showed that Minnesotans care deeply about their state.

“It was an incredible experience to see our community’s energy and passion captured in the beautiful designs they submitted,” Kunesh said. “From loons and wild rice to water and the North Star, we have captured the essence of our state in the new flag and seal. These designs honor our history and celebrate the future of Minnesota.”

One Indigenous graphic designer is already selling T-shirts online that bear the new design and say, “At least the flag isn’t racist anymore.”

Ted Kaye, secretary of the North American Vexillological Association, who studies flags and was involved in the redesign, has said the new Minnesota flag gets an “A+” from him for its simplicity, uniqueness and inclusion of meaningful symbols.

THE REST OF THE COUNTRY

Several other states also have been redesigning flags.

The Utah Legislature last winter approved a design featuring a beehive, a symbol of the prosperity and the industriousness of its Mormon pioneers. Mississippi chose a new flag with a magnolia to replace a Confederate-themed flag. Other states considering simplifying their flags include Michigan, Illinois and Maine.

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Associated Press writer Trisha Ahmed in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

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