Concerns over the cultural appropriation of a Native American sun symbol have led Madison officials to consider redesigning the city’s flag, Mayor Paul Soglin said.
The design for the flag was developed in 1962 by Rick and Dennis Stone to symbolize the city on trips with the Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps.
Two light blue segments split by a diagonal white middle segment represent Lake Monona and Lake Mendota separated by the Isthmus, with a symbol in the center meant to be an aerial view of the state Capitol building.
But the central image also closely resembles an ancient sun symbol that originated with the Zia Pueblo tribe in New Mexico.
Ald. Arvina Martin, 11th District, the City Council’s first Native American member, said that after her election in April, members of the Native American community approached her with concerns about the flag and the cultural appropriation of Native American symbols.
Martin, who is an enrolled member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and is also Stockbridge-Munsee, said it’s possible community members didn’t feel comfortable voicing their discomfort about the flag with previous council members. She said her district’s response to changing the flag’s symbol has been “overwhelmingly positive.”
“People are excited that native voices are being listened to, and that the city is taking their concerns seriously,” Martin said.
Soglin, who heard about the controversy this past month, said “it’s a good time to look at a redesign.”
Given the design’s original intentions, Soglin said he thinks it shouldn’t be difficult to redesign an emblem that isn’t offensive to anyone. He also said that he’s not sure that an image of the Capitol building is appropriate for the city’s flag.
“We’re a city, not the state (of Wisconsin),” Soglin said. “I’ve always wondered why the Capitol building was the key symbol on our flag. We’ve got the Isthmus, we’ve got two lakes. I think this is fit for a good community discussion about what the city flag should look like.”
Martin said that she and Ald. Maurice Cheeks, 8th District, are talking about how to approach the redesign process, making sure the new design incorporates community input.