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Minnesota's new state flag is drawing mixed reactions

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Minnesota flew its new state flag for the first time on Saturday. For some people, the new flag was a cause for celebration. For others, it's an unwanted change. Dana Ferguson with Minnesota Public Radio was there yesterday to see it happen.

DANA FERGUSON, BYLINE: It's just after sunrise on Saturday morning, and I'm standing on top of the Minnesota Capitol. Looking out across the Capitol Mall, I can see a blue-on-blue banner just across the way. The old flags were retired just before the sun came up. To mark Minnesota's Statehood Day, new banners went up here and around the state.

ERIK NELSON: I like that it has the shape of Minnesota as the main design feature. I like the colors, the dark blue and the light blue.

FERGUSON: Erik Nelson is a 27-year-old from St. Paul. He submitted a new design for the flag last year, along with thousands of other Minnesotans. His idea wasn't picked, but he did plan to get together to celebrate the new design.

NELSON: It's essentially a Minnesota Statehood Day party, but it's especially to celebrate the new flag.

FERGUSON: Nelson encouraged guests to make Minnesota-themed foods and dress the part.

NELSON: One person - I think she's coming dressed as a loon. Some people I know are coming dressed based on the flag. My boyfriend and I are being Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

FERGUSON: 34-year-old Jimbo Tarpy (ph) has an outline of the state tattooed on his back, but he waited to fill it in until the new flag emerged.

JIMBO TARPY: People always say, put some trees in there or put this in there, put something in there. I basically said, I'm not putting anything in there until we get a new flag.

FERGUSON: But not everyone has warmed to the new design.

BRAD KANIG: Look at it and you see the dark blue, and you see the lighter blue, and you got the white star, and I'm going, It doesn't jump out at me at all.

FERGUSON: Brad Kanig (ph) is a retired social studies teacher from Hector, Minnesota. He says he'll stick with the previous state flag and wishes he could have had a say in it. GOP representative Bjorn Olson served on the redesign commission and agreed that the public should have had a chance to approve it before it took flight.

BJORN OLSON: Just ask the Minnesotans, do you like the flag? Do you think it represents you appropriately? And if not, let's go back to the drawing board.

FERGUSON: Beginning in the 1960s, civil rights activists raised concerns about the seal that depicted a farmer working the land while a Native American man rode off into the distance.

BILL CONVERY: For the artists who created the seal, this is intended to be an allegory of oncoming progress in civilization and the removal of Native people from the landscape.

FERGUSON: Bill Convery is the director of research at the Minnesota Historical Society.

CONVERY: That debate has been going on since at least the civil rights era, at least 1968, and up to and through today.

FERGUSON: The new flag has a dark blue, K-shaped figure to the left that's meant to mimic Minnesota. There's a white, eight-point star within the shape. To the right, light blue fills the remainder, and the new seal skips people together in favor of Minnesota's state bird, the common loon, preening on a lake.

STEVE SIMON: The old seal will always have a place in our history. We're not looking to air brush that out.

FERGUSON: Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon served on the commission and is by law, the official keeper of the seal.

SIMON: But I think this is a real useful and positive pivot point to a set of emblems and depictions and symbols that will really represent all of us.

FERGUSON: The old flag and seal will be preserved in the Minnesota Historical Society.

For NPR News, I'm Dana Ferguson in St. Paul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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