Flying Native flags in state capitols

The official photo of Minnesota's Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, White Earth. (Photo courtesy of Office of Minnesota Governor and Lt. Governor)

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye

Updated: North Dakota joins more states displaying tribal flags.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum announced two weeks ago that the state capitol will display the flags of the five tribal nations next to state and national flags. A flag ceremony Thursday will make it official.

Tribal leaders from the five federally-recognized tribes -- the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, the Spirit Lake Nation, the Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa Indians, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Nation -- will present tribal flags to the governor during the ceremony.

Social media exploded with support, especially because this action follows Standing Rock. A movement that showed the tense and complicated relationship between the tribes and North Dakota.

“Great respect. Good first step. During the self-governance initiation days and during the US/Canada treaty negotiations, we asked in meetings at the State Department, that has a hall of flags, that they display our tribal nation flags,” said a commenter. “They never took us seriously. It’s such as small gesture in ways but a monumental one.”

North Dakota Sen. Richard Marcellais was inspired by Montana’s display of tribal flags in the Montana Senate and House Chambers.

“It was an impressive display, and showed a bonding relationship between the Montana Native American tribes and the state of Montana,” he told WZFG. “I want to thank Governor Burgum for his executive decision to display the North Dakota Tribal Nations Flags in the Memorial Hall of the State Capitol.”

In Minnesota, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan added her tribal flag to her official photo, the White Earth Nation flag.

Typically, the official state photos of legislators only display two flags -- the United States and state flag -- as does the one for Gov. Tim Walz.

Lt. Gov. Flanagan took her oath to office on Jan. 7 in St. Paul, which set her up as the highest-ranking Native American woman holding an executive position in the country.

(READ MORE: Live blog: ‘I do … chi miigwetch’ says Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan)

In the photo, the year 1867 is inked on the flag behind Flanagan. The year completes the phrase “Treaty of 1867” which is the same year Congress established the tribal nation’s reservation.

The reservation’s establishment resulted from a treaty between the Mississippi Band of Ojibwe and the United States. The government wanted to force all Ojibwe onto one reservation.

The White Earth flag also hangs in the governor’s reception room, where Walz and Flanagan handle their “most important work” like meetings and press events, said spokesperson Kayla Castañeda.

“It’s the first time a tribal flag is hung in the reception room,” Castañeda said.

(READ MORE: Politics is not always fun … but it can be historic)

Minnesota and North Dakota are two states added to the list of states recognizing tribes.

Oregon showcased the tribal flags of their nine federally-recognized tribes in 2009. The flags fly in the Willson Park next to the Capitol.

One of those tribal flags, the Grande Ronde Tribal flag, also stands in the federal courthouse in Portland as of 2016.

However, these states follow the lead of the Oklahoma when they created the Indian Flags Plaza in 1989. The plaza honored the 40 tribes in the state with 37 flags flying in the plaza on the state Capitol grounds.

Since Indian Affairs falls under the Department of Interior, it only seemed fitting to have an area in the department's main building to honor tribal nations.

The corridor of the assistant secretary of Indian Affairs is called the "Hall of Tribal Nations," where 100 flags of Indigenous nations are showcased. The number grew from the initial 40 flags displayed in 2000. All the flags are "permanently displayed in the Hall" and it reminds the department about the "government-to-government relationships with Indian tribes and the trust responsibility that the BIA has to the tribes."

As for our legislators in Washington, D.C., a Cherokee flag hangs on a door in Rep. Markwayne Mullin’s office.

(Photo courtesy of Amy Lawrence, spokesperson for Rep. Markwayne Mullin)

The Cherokee seal and alphabet also hang in his Washington office.

(Photo courtesy of Amy Lawrence, spokesperson for Rep. Markwayne Mullin)

(Photo courtesy of Amy Lawrence, spokesperson for Rep. Markwayne Mullin)

Congressman Tom Cole doesn’t have his tribe’s flag in his office, but “he proudly displays numerous tribal items at each of his congressional office locations,” said spokesperson Sarah Corley. He gave video tour of his office a few years ago.

Since Rep. Sharice Davids just arrived to the Capitol, her office doesn’t “have pretty much any décor yet,” said Chief of Staff Allison Teixeira.

Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids arrives to her office in Washington, D.C. before being inaugurated on Jan. 3. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye)

A Laguna Pueblo flag for New Mexico Rep. Debra Haaland is in the works and recognizes the importance of its display.

“Posting the flags of our tribal nations is a way to demonstrate our pride in our communities while raising the issues of tribal sovereignty and trust responsibility,” Haaland said. “My office is in the process of getting a Laguna Pueblo flag along with other flags that represent communities who have been historically marginalized, so we can proudly display them alongside the New Mexico and United States flag.”


What: North Dakota Native American Flag Ceremony
When: Thursday, January 17, 2019
Time: 12:00 p.m. CST
Where: Memorial Hall, Bismarck, North Dakota

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Diné, is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter - @jourdanbb. Email -