Time to retire state’s ‘flag by committee’

The North Star Flag is a leading design proposed to replace Minnesota's current drab, forgettable flag.

The North Star Flag is a leading design proposed to replace Minnesota’s current drab, forgettable flag.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

If you ask folks to name something about the Minnesota state flag, most would remark “It’s blue.” And, for the most part, it is blue. With some gobbledegook in the middle.

Now, perhaps you’ve spent some time looking closer at that gobbledegook, enough time to realize that it looks like one of those old newspaper features where you look at a picture to see what’s different on the next page. Farming equipment and astronomical features adorn a historically inaccurate etching of a toiling farmer and behorsed Indian, who is apparently choosing to leave the state of his own accord.

Minnesota’s current state flag, reliant on the state seal, is the very definition of something produced by committee. Several well-meaning people formed an image that everyone could tolerate, but that no one could ever truly love. This is exactly how office parties end up with taco bars, and high school proms still use“Endless Love” as a theme.

Further, the flag contains the word “Minnesota,” which is something redundant to the purpose of having a flag.

This would be a little like if your wife prowled down the stairs in a skimpy negligee, only to say, “I’m wearing a negligee in an attempt to seduce you,” before handing you a notarized letter saying the same thing. I guess it works. Beats nothing. But the process remains unnecessarily clunky.

Flags are, quite literally, emblems. As I teach in class, emblems speak messages without language. I don’t have to speak the languages of my northern European ancestors to feel pride in the flags of their nations, nor do I need to speak German to have historical understanding of the evil of the Nazi flag.

I went to college with a girl whose dad stole a Soviet flag from the front of the Russian embassy in a drunken escapade at the height of the Cold War, narrowly escaping the pursuit of the guards down the streets of New York. We’ve all read stories of what humankind has done just to put flags where there were no flags before. Do you think the picture of soldiers raising the American flag at Iwo Jima would have been as effective if the standard was a tiny picture of the signing of the Constitution and the words “United States of America” written in Helvetica? Stars and stripes, right? Say no more; we know what that means.

If we’re going to bother having a state flag, it should in one glance say what words can’t. We should be able to waive it at sporting events and dangle it off the back of race cars and campaign buses. It should wink the name “Minnesota,” without so much as an “Oh, ya” uttered verbally.

In 1989, a design dubbed the “North Star Flag” gained the endorsement of many Minnesota newspapers, lawmakers and citizens. The flag’s designed describe it thusly:

“The star recalls the state motto chosen by the pioneers, ‘L’etoile du Nord’ (‘The North Star’). The blue stripe represents our lakes and rivers.  The white stripe represents winter. The green stripe represents our farmland and forests. Gold represents our state’s natural wealth. The waves represent the state name, ‘minisota’ — a Native American name which means ‘sky-tinted water.’”

The design is pretty good, high praise from any Minnesotan, and just enjoyed some renewed interest from a recent story in City Pages. Bills attempting to adopt the North Star Flag have been introduced several times over the years, but never seem to advance.

Perhaps with this being the year Minnesota is starting to self-identify as “North” instead of just “Upper Midwest,” we could use this new image to unite a state still bitterly divided by the “Duck, Duck, Goose” and “Duck, Duck, Grey Duck” controversy.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This post first appeared in the Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.



  1. Erick Hedren says

    Wading in on the controversy, IT IS, Duck Duck Grey Duck. Oh, the “North Star Flag”, poor, very poor, a piece of drab and forgettable fabric. Which is probably the reason it has languished for over 20 years.
    I got a gold star once it was on a spelling test in the third grade.

  2. Monotonously compelling in a cyclical-lived sports logo kind of way , this proposed redesign is the graphic capture of a million cautious potlucks .

  3. the graphic capture of cautious , incrementally-vetted potlucks , dawning nods and guarded seconds confirming evolutionary fiat .

  4. Ugliest flag I’ve ever seen. If we’re going to change it, at least make it something good.

  5. As I’m a few months from being a Minnesota resident, I feel like I want to have an opinion.

    I like this flag (not as cool as Maryland’s but. . . ) but it lacks red. I firmly believe each flag needs the red, white and blue. . . . even states that voted for Mondale. 🙂

  6. Dan R, I’m just happy it’s not Dark blue on blue on light blue with a star.

  7. Elanne Palcich says

    I have never seen such a bland flag as the new design. Although maybe it’s what we will end up with–no loons, no wolves, no moose–just alternating winter and summer in some sort of new climate medley. Maybe if we don’t really love all of natural beauty of Minnesota, we won’t really miss it when it’s gone.
    On the other hand–our traditional Minnesota flag opened all of our 4-H meetings when I was growing up, and we all sang Minnesota Hail to Thee. Our flag and song might be outdated–even racist–but they do represent our history–a history we need to come to terms with. I think we need to ask the Indigenous culture to come up with a new flag for this century.

  8. How was our flag and song racist? Both about as vanilla as you can get.

  9. We should never remove the French from our flag. French and French Canadian-Native make up an important piece of our state. We are the counter weight to Norwegian stoicism, etc. We will definitely argue if provided an opportunity. Almost any opportunity, really.

  10. Not going to go too far into the appeal of the proposed design (I’ll reserve judgment for the short term), but for context, the flags of many other states are pretty bland and non-memorable.


  11. Anonymous Minnesotan says

    This flag design is amazing imo. It captures the natural beauty of our land in one simplistic arrangement. It demonstrates the land, the forests, the snow, the lakes, the “North Star”… I really just don’t see why people don’t like it. Either way it’s without a doubt better than our current blue flag with the big ugly (and historically racist) seal.

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