Behind the Badge
The Great Seal of Minnesota has been modified a few times in Minnesota History by the state legislature in 1858, 1971, and 1983 – but certainly not to the degree that is now proposed by our state legislators. In 2023, our state legislature created the State Emblems Redesign Commission to change both the seal and the flag – changes that will be official on Statehood day in May of this year. Here is some of the history of the seal on our great flag: · The 19 stars symbolizes that Minnesota was the 19 state to enter the Union · The larger star at the top symbolizes the North Star. · L’Étoile du Nord is a French phrase meaning “The Star of the North” and was chosen by our states first governor, Henry Hastings Sibley. · Saint Anthony Falls represents growth of industry, including lumber and agriculture · The farmer and Native American depicted on the seal was depicted as a symbol of “eternal friendship” between settlers and Native Americans. The Native American on horseback symbolizes Minnesota’s Native American Heritage. The farmer and plo w symbolize the importance of agriculture to our state. If you look beyond the falls, you’ll see three larger Red Pine, or Norway Pine trees representing the state tree and the three pine regions of Minnesota, the St. Croix, Mississippi, and Lake Superior.
Rep. Mike Freiberg, D-Golden Valley, introduced the bill that would create the State Emblems Redesign Commission. Freiberg described the current state seal as a “cluttered genocidal mess” that was in need of change. While some would agree the State Seal is “busy,” you can’t argue the history and symbolism that went into its design. Our Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, who is a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, said she felt the flag showed the native person being driven off their land. Anytime you have artwork like this, the symbolism is going to be subject to interpretation. I’m certain the intent was never to depict the native person being driven off their land. Many would suggest our forefathers depicted both the white settler and Native American in the seal because both were an important part of our state’s history, and their hope was for eternal friendship. Now, nobody can argue that incredible mistakes were made between our settlers and Native Americans – however I believe today most Minnesotan’s embrace and respect both groups and those symbols on our current seal reminds us the importance of working together and not repeating the mistakes of our past.
The newly designed seal features our state bird the Common Loon, the North Star, Wild Rice (our state grain), and pine trees representing the Norway Pine (our state tree). The seal will also contain the Dakota phrase “Mni Sóta Makoce,” which is translated to either ‘land where the waters reflect the sky’ or. ‘land where the waters reflect the clouds’ depending on who you ask. The outer seal will have 98 gold squares symbolizing Minnesota’s 87 counties and the 11 recognized American Indian Tribes of Minnesota. This seal was designed by Ross Bruggink, who’s an artist from the Twin Cities. I do believe a lot thought was put into this seal, and it does incorporate some history. However, the only thing in this seal representing our Native American Heritage in Minnesota is the Dakota phrase. If the reason for changing the seal was to be more inclusive to our Native American communities, shouldn’t we symbolize all of our Native American Tribes in the state? I’m certainly no historian when it comes to Minnesota Native American History, but the Dakota (Sioux) and the Chippewa (Ojibwe) fought in one of the last Indian battles here in Minnesota called the Round Lake Massacre in 1852. So are the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa in Northern Minnesota, Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, or Red Lake Chippewa going to at some point argue that their shouldn’t be a Dakota (Sioux) phrase on the seal? While the Dakota have called Minnesota home longer than any other group, both the Dakota and the Ojibwe communities are part of our state’s history. My point is, you’re never going to satisfy everyone with a flag and/or seal, inevitably someone is going to interpret (or misinterpret) the intent of our state symbols as being offensive. Lastly, why aren’t we incorporating this new state seal on our new state flag? Ross Bruggink spent a great deal of time to create our new seal – and there is a lot of symbolism and history behind his thoughtful design. No offense to Andrew Prekker, who designed this new proposed flag, depicting the North Star and the basic shape of Minnesota, but it does nothing to symbolize our history and falls short of anything that I think many of us would have chosen. Thirty-three of the 50 states still proudly display their seal or coat of arms on their flag. The cynic in me says the changing of the flag and state seal are all about egos – legislators at the capitol who want their name in the history books righting the wrongs of our state and redesigning a new beginning to our state’s future. Luis Fitch, who chairs the committee, said: “I don’t want to call this design by committee – its design by community.” I’ve had many people asking my opinion about the new redesign. This is my opinion. As you can see, I love history– a. love I shared with my father. This is “our” flag, all of us who’ve grown up here and raised our families here – whether you’re Native American or your family immigrated from the Nordic Countries or elsewhere in Europe. We are collectively the “community” here in Minnesota. We should have all had a say in this – not just the few on this design commission.