As Utahns weigh what new flag should fly over the Beehive state, the 20 semifinalists for the job were unfurled for the first time by a group of fourth graders outside the Capitol on Thursday morning.
The 20 flags displayed at the statehouse were selected out of several thousand submissions, said Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, for the ways they represent the state’s culture, history and landscapes.
“I just want to say how thankful we all are to the many Utahns who took the time to think about what symbols and what colors remind them of this great state,” Henderson said. “In the process, we’ve animated an ongoing conversation about what unites us, which is something really special these days.”
The Utah Department of Cultural and Community Engagement is overseeing the “More Than a Flag” initiative, launched by Gov. Spencer Cox in January. He did not attend the opening of the exhibit after his father-in-law, Ken Palmer, passed away yesterday.
A new Utah state flag comes as a result of a 2021 bill sponsored by Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, and Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, which created a task force to explore the possibility of replacing the former flag. Both attended the display launch.
“This is so wonderful to see this — these wonderful kids,” Handy said. “And that was kind of always our vision, that the children of Utah would get involved in this and embrace something new.”
McCay, stepping in front of the podium and pulling up the hems of his pants to show socks patterned after the current state flag, said, “It’s appropriate that we are not only seeing the potential for the new state flags, but that we’re so close to our existing state flag and the American flag — both mean so much to us.”
Two students whose designs made the top 20 skipped school to talk about their flags at the Capitol.
Angelina Nading, a 15-year-old junior at Uintah High School in Vernal, designed her flag in January as part of an activity offered while visiting the Capitol for Local Officials Day with the Vernal Youth City Council. Her flag is royal blue with a beehive in the middle, encircled by eight white stars representing the eight tribal nations in Utah.
Skyline High School senior Benjamin Benson, who is 17 years old and serving on the Millcreek Youth Council, designed a blue flag with a sego lily and an eight-pointed star in the center.
“I found it important to both include the sego lily, just because of the history with the Native Americans giving that to the pioneers in times of starvation, as well as the eight-pointed star to give a nod to our eight tribal nations,” Benson told The Salt Lake Tribune.
Those eight sovereign nations are the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute; the Navajo Nation; Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation; Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah; San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe; Skull Valley Band of Goshute; Ute Mountain Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray reservation; and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. Dominique Talahaftewa, the cultural liaison for the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, has been working to collect input from those nations’ tribal leaders as to what they would like to see reflected in the flag.
“They did want it to be something that would show sovereignty, not, you know, say there was a symbol like a circle or something. They didn’t want one symbol to represent all of them because they are separate,” Talahaftewa explained.
The first state flag was commissioned by Gov. Heber C. Wells in 1903 for display at the St. Louis World’s Fair. He asked the Daughters of the American Revolution to oversee its creation. Since then, the flag has been changed three times.
“Until now, Utahns have never had a chance to weigh in or offer their ideas for what their state flag should look like,” Henderson said.
Utahns have through Oct. 5 to share their thoughts about the 20 semifinalists on https://flag.utah.gov.
So far, Henderson said, over 20,000 people have filled out the survey. People living in northern and southern Utah will also be able to see the semifinalist flags physically displayed in Logan and Cedar City.
The Design Review Subcommittee, headed by Cox and McCay, will refine the designs and the task force will vote on one to send to the Legislature for approval.
“I want to make sure that everybody understands a new state flag is meant to contribute to our common identity as a state,” Henderson said. “It’s not meant to cancel anything in the past — it’s not meant to cancel our old flag.”