Minnesota has gotten more than 2,500 design submissions for its new state flag. There are a lot of loons
(CNN) — Minnesota is currently contemplating a new state flag. In order to capture the true essence of the North Star State, with its endless lakes and vaguely menacing waterfowl, its leaders have wisely turned to the people who know it best: Minnesotans themselves.
Residents have sent in more than 2,600 submissions for redesigns of the state flag and the state seal, and, if all goes to plan, a new set of state symbols will be accepted by the Minnesota legislature in the spring of 2024.
State flags are a matter of pride and endless controversy, and Minnesota’s situation is no different. The current flag is unremarkable at first glance, with the state seal floating on a field of blue. However, critics have long taken issue with the depiction of an Indigenous American on horseback at the center of the seal, which is read as a reference to the displacement of native people throughout Minnesota’s history.
Calls for a symbol change date back to at least 1968, when the Minnesota human rights commissioner asked the secretary of state to change the flag, which, for one bureaucratic reason after another, never happened.
In May 2023, the Minnesota state legislature passed a bill to redesign both the flag and the seal with the help of a State Emblems Redesign Commission. “The designs must accurately and respectfully reflect Minnesota’s shared history, resources, and diverse cultural communities,” the bill reads. The SERC’s public submission period ended October 30, and the commission is due to certify its choice by the end of the year.
Philip McKenzie, a member of the Minnesota State Arts Board, is one of the 13 voting members of the SERC. He says the group must consider a lot when looking for a new symbol for its state.
“We had input from a vexillologist as to what makes a good flag. One of the broad principles is it should be simple and symbolic, and not have a ton of colors. We’re all read up on the history of the state and why this group is here,” he told CNN in a phone interview.
McKenzie also points out that while a state seal is usually seen as a symbol of the government, the flag is for the people.
“There’s a lot of responsibility and a lot of strength in picking a new flag, and the thoughtful work of this committee honors that,” he says. “We are looking for inclusiveness and clarity. It will be a Minnesota state flag truly for the people.”
Submissions have centered around popular Minnesota symbols
One could spend an enjoyable afternoon scrolling through the flag redesign submissions and come out the other side knowing a lot more about Minnesota and its residents.
State symbols, like the monarch (the state butterfly) and the pink and white Lady’s Slipper (the state flower) abound, along with some of Minnesota’s most recognizable pieces of culture: hockey sticks, a tater tot casserole and a purple flag in honor of Prince.
Here are some of the most popular themes:
Loons figure heavily into state symbology, to the extent that one wonders if there are any other birds in Minnesota at all.
“Loons are our state bird. It looks like somebody modified a duck,” explains McKenzie. “It has a haunting and gorgeous song, and when you hear it at sunset it reminds you that Minnesota is all about nature.”
“Haunting and gorgeous” is definitely one way to describe submission F15, which depicts a loon shooting lasers out of its eyes. Another favorite design on social media features a large unflinching loon head on a two-tone background.
Lakes and rivers
Minnesota isn’t called the Land of 10,000 Lakes for nothing. The flag and seal submissions are brimming with blue motifs to symbolize what is, for Minnesotans, a way of life. The headwaters of the mighty Mississippi River are also in Minnesota, and some flags trace its wandering path southward.
Minnesotans for a Better Flag, a group at the forefront of the state’s flag conversation, showcases several designs that are also folded into the SERC’s longer list. Many of these have strong representations of water, ranging from abstract lines to entire fishing scenes.
While some people might assume Maine boasts the northernmost point in the continental US, it’s actually Minnesota — in a little nub along its northern border that pokes into Canada. It’s a fact its residents aren’t allowed to forget.
“Of course, we have the star of the north, along with the state’s motto, L’Etoile de Nord (the Star of the North),” says McKenzie. “In a way, it’s a link back to history, because that’s a symbolic choice that’s been made in the past and here we are still today, a guiding star.”
It’s no wonder stars adorn many of the submissions, whether stylized with four points, five points, eight points … or some irregular, hand-drawn combination.
And … honorable mentions
The winning design will likely incorporate at least several of the elements above. But credit must be given to some of the more, um, creative entries: a close-up image of particle board, the one that says “Cold Like Minnesota,” a smiley face apparently rendered in MS Paint, and whoever submitted a vertical photo of their dog.
Minnesota has company in its rebranding campaign. Many states have been reconsidering their flags in recent years, trading in vestiges of Confederate or otherwise controversial symbols for fresh imagery. Mississippi raised a new flag in 2021 that replaced a Confederate battle emblem with stars and a magnolia, the state flower.
Maine also is considering a replacement for its seal-on-blue flag, to be set before voters in November 2024. Maine’s legislators are hoping to nail down a remake of the state’s 1901 flag motif, which featured a pine silhouette in a nod to the Pine Tree State.
It also has a depiction of the North Star, which Minnesotans may take issue with. No loons, though. Minnesota can have them.