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What the final 5 flag designs say about us as Utahns

courtesy State of Utah
Department of Cultural & Community Engagement

Update, Nov. 10, 2022 @ 3:57 p.m.: In a unanimous vote the state flag task force has backed the red, white and blue design with a few modifications. The finalist will be sent to the Utah Legislature for a vote during the General Session which starts in January. Our original story continues below.

It's now down to five designs for the new Utah state flag.

Since Jan. 19, when Gov. Spencer Cox kicked off the state’s “More Than A Flag” initiative, Utah has been in search of a new banner to carry its identity. The final five will be considered by the state task force at a Nov. 10 public meeting at the Capitol. They’ll send the final flag to the Legislature for a vote.

While some Utahns think that the current flag — the Utah seal on a navy blue background — represents the state, many said in a 2021 survey that they “don’t believe or are unsure that the flag represents them personally.”

The search for a new standard was a chance for Utah to talk about who we are.

“People are like, this is how I see myself, this is how I see my community and this is how I see our future,” said Kassie John, an Indigenous designer on the design subcommittee.

Beehives to represent industry. White mountain silhouettes for the north and oranges or reds to represent red rock country to the south. Deep blues and circular shapes to signal state traditions and unity.

“As a tribal member of the Navajo Nation, it's just been so interesting to see all these different identities being woven into this flag,” John said. “And I know that some people have been using stars as a semblance of the eight sovereign nations here in Utah.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Ciara Hulet: Stars and the number eight have been prominent design traits in the process. What more can you tell me?

Kassie John: There's so many variations of stars as well, like relating it to the United States flag. As in, each star represents a state. So how do we see states with sovereign nations here in Utah? And how can we communicate those beautiful relationships that we have with one another? And for me, those stars can mean many things. It can mean many communities. We are so diverse here in Utah that even those stars can mean something bigger than ourselves.

CH: How does it feel as a Native American woman to be represented on these flags?

KJ: It’s very beautiful. And for many of the tribal nations, I know that they really appreciate the intentionality of being a part of this whole process of designing the flag. It builds upon not only friendly relations but also … upon what we see sovereignty as and respecting that we have our own processes and we have our own ways of being independent nations. But [we’re] also nations that are willing to share our culture and willing to be a part of this bigger narrative for future generations.

CH: Four of the final designs feature a beehive, which many think is synonymous with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Is it possible to have a beehive on the flag and still include people who may not be members of the church?

KJ: Symbols have meanings that will develop over time that are going to shift and change with perspective. And for right now, that's what that symbol means. But who knows in the future that it's going to have a different meaning collectively? It's so interesting to see how many flag designs submitted a beehive and how people are so connected with it that are probably not part of the LDS Church, but feel connected to it as people who come and go with our state and interact with us. It's become synonymous.

CH: The same could be said about the old flag and the history of Utah’s 50-year struggle for statehood that’s connected to it. So if we just get rid of that, do we lose something?

KJ: It's like a conversation that's happening throughout the nation. We have many states in a similar situation where they're getting rid of what I call a big, blank piece of paper, and then they put the state seal on it. And that's what most state flags originally started out as. And as time went on, people started to say, we can simplify this so that we have a way that people can connect with us on another level. And that's kind of how I see the state flag process right now is that we're trying to connect with Utahns across the state, especially with the whole dichotomy of like North and South where we have the red rocks and then we're known for our white snow. How can we connect those two dichotomies that we have into something that we can represent as one state and something that we can be proud of for future generations? And those histories are complicated and convoluted as well, especially when we have the symbolism of the beehive, the symbolism of the stars, those are going to shift as we continue on and build new histories and build new narratives with our communities. And as people come in, come out and really help us identify what does it mean to be a Utahn?

Ciara is a native of Utah and KUER's Morning Edition host
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