I became a member of the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA) years ago due to my interest in using flags in my teaching. Vexillology is the study of flags. For most of my sociology classes, I displayed a new flag or two each day that related to our topic.
The students loved the visual representation of our learning and developed an increased interest in flags and their sociological meanings; some even became members of NAVA.
During spring semester 2019, one of my classes studied the process used by the Duluth City Council to select a new city flag. The students discovered that the flag-redesign process — the “Duluth Flag Project” — was an exciting blend of public, committee and City Council input. Starting with an open call that resulted in 195 submitted flag designs, the pool was narrowed down to 41 semifinalists and then to nine finalists.
In the end, in consultation with the flag committee and the public, the City Council adopted a new flag and design statement at its meeting on Aug. 19, 2019. The designer of the flag was Blane Tetreault with the help of his family. Tetreault indicated in an Aug. 14, 2019, article in the News Tribune that his design team included his wife Bridget and their daughters Amelia and Eleanor.
I believe the Duluth city flag is well-designed and easy to draw and recognize.
The meanings associated with the design relate well to the geography and shared diverse history of Duluth. According to Tetreault, the flag’s bottom dark-blue section symbolizes Lake Superior; the green signifies the hillside and north woods; the three waves represent Thompson Hill, Enger Park and Hawk’s Ridge; the larger light blue area is indicative of a blue sky, and the gold star embodies both the North Star and the history of Native Americans and voyageurs in the area.
In late 2022, NAVA sponsored a survey among its members and the public to rank city flags. Of 312 flags ranked, the new Duluth city flag ranked 12th. The Duluth city flag does a great job staying simple yet meaningful and is one of the best city flags in the nation.
In May of this year, the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill, signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz, creating the Minnesota State Emblems and Redesign Commission. The purpose of this 13-member group (with four additional nonvoting members from the Legislature) is to “develop and adopt a new design for the official state flag and the official state seal” no later than Jan. 1. The effective date of the new seal and flag will be on Minnesota Statehood Day, May 11, 2024.
I do not envy the State Emblems Redesign Commission since it has less than five months to send its final report to the Legislature — and has yet to convene. According to its official website, so far there are currently only six members posted of the 13. This is despite the law requiring that “appointments to the commission must be made no later than August 1, 2023.”
Once the commission does finally get up and running, I strongly urge its members to use the Duluth model for redesigning the state flag. This will save time while, more importantly, helping to select a simple yet meaningful flag design. It will also help ensure an open and public process more acceptable to all Minnesotans.
Dave Berger of Maple Grove, Minnesota, is a retired sociology professor, freelance writer, member of the North American Vexillological Association (nava.org) and author.