Today’s guest post is by Steve Grooms
It seems some southerners just can’t let go of the Stars and Bars, the Confederate battle flag. They consider it a symbol of a romantic past. Historians tell us it is a romantic past that never existed, but romantics do not let facts get in the way of convictions. And yet, who are we to feel smug about anyone else’s flag? The Minnesota flag is hardly an example of beauty and positive values. There is actually a scholarly group that studies flags and critiques their design. The American Vexillological Association rates the Minnesota flag as sixth in the country—and that is sixth from the bottom, not the top!
When it comes to rankings, Minnesota almost always ranks best or close to best. But it is an official and undeniable truth: our flag sucks. Our flag ranks somewhere like political ethics in New Jersey, environmental protection in Louisiana, or public schools in West Virginia.
More to the point, our flag is highly offensive to Minnesotans whose ancestors were here before Europeans arrived to “discover” the Mississippi River (right where it had always been), chop down the white pines and extirpate such critters as elk, wolves and buffalo.
The flag depicts a European settler tilling his field. His holds a plow, although his rifle is nearby. He looks over his shoulder at a near-naked Indian on horseback who carries a spear. This odd scene is Minnesota? Well, it was when the flag was adopted in 1893, just 21 years after the tragic conflict between the Dakota and the state’s pioneer settlers.
According to a historian quoted in a recent Star Tribune story:
“The image of the pioneer, a peaceful man who has laid down his gun and is plowing his field, is juxtaposed with the image of the Indian, who may still want to fight (his spear is at the ready) but who seems to be riding away.
“The pioneer/farmer is using a plow, a symbol of civilization. The white man is depicted as a ‘doer’ who is entitled to the land, trees and water, empowered by the concept of Manifest Destiny. The Indian is the vacating tenant. A peaceful transition is suggested, but this ignores the tense and problematic history of conflict between European settlers and Indians, such as the complicated history of treaties and the Dakota War of 1862.”
I have other quibbles with the flag:
The logo declares, “L’ Etoile du Nord.” French, of course, is the native language of Minnesota.
The Indian is seen as riding south (which we know because of the position of the setting sun). And yet we know that Sioux survivors of the Dakota conflict were forcibly relocated to a bleak bit of land in central South Dakota. They didn’t ride there but were shipped out on boats like prisoners of war.
The river shown in the flag is widely presumed to be the Mississippi. Oddly, it runs west to east.
The pioneer is shown pushing his plow by hand. We could ask our farmer friend, Ben, how well that would work. I believe we are meant to be inspired by the stump in the field because it represents something like civilization. I am more inclined to see a stump as a symbol of the pioneers’ heedless abuse of nature.
The seal celebrates the beauty of Minnesota’s mountains. Somehow, like the little town of Lake Wobegon, the famous Minnesota Mountain Range fails to appear on modern maps.
The flag celebrates farming and logging, the most important industries of 1893. But gee, there are so many important businesses now that the flag fails to recognize. Shouldn’t the state flag have a Cheerio on it to acknowledge our food companies? Why is there no pacemaker on the flag? No Post-it Notes? No brewery? Shouldn’t our flag include the logo of Minnesota Vikings, or at least the Twins?
How about those flowers circling the plowing scene? They do nothing for the overall design, which is as cluttered as a teenager’s bedroom. Flags should look good from a distance, even when flapping in a wind. Our flag looks like something designed by a committee, a committee of folks who flunked the only art class they ever took.
What we have is a flag that is politically offensive and factually goofy. I could live with that if it were pretty. But, alas, our state’s flag is vexillogically challenged. What we somehow inherited is a flag that flag experts consider “a really, really, really crappy design.”
If it were yours to design, what would Minnesota’s flag look like?