Above the Utah Capitol flies a banner. The state flag. A nondescript official-looking blue bolt of cloth. How many citizens could describe it or even recognize it? Probably not many.
Now imagine an ensign that carries the color of the red rock canyons, emblazoned with the bold and mysterious designs of ancient cultures that called this land home for thousands of years. An unfurled celebration of symbols appropriate for a state blessed with such outstanding natural and artistic legacies. Utah has an opportunity for an improved way to announce itself by adopting a new flag to fly proudly for the world to see.
Recent observations that the official state flag of Utah is boring, difficult to understand and dated, are worthy of consideration. Flag aficionados categorize it as an “SOB” or “Seal on a Bedsheet.” Is that a fitting symbol for the state? The state seal on a blue background is not exactly eye-catching or even very meaningful.
Compare it with Colorado’s bold “C” and bright colors, often proudly worn on ski caps and other clothing. Or New Mexico’s Zia symbol honoring the state’s Puebloan peoples. How about Wyoming’s buffalo, or California’s bear? Many state flags are proud statements of identity.
Utah’s? Pretty grim.
Two bills currently under consideration by the Legislature address the flag and its future. One, sponsored by Keven Stratton, R-Orem, proposes a new design with colored triangular panels and a central beehive flanked by the date “1847.” This design commemorates the arrival in the state by Latter-day Saint pioneers, and features the insect sometimes used to symbolize their industriousness and cooperative spirit. It is not unattractive, but unduly restricts its historical reference to one religion and one historical event.
A second bill, sponsored by Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, will set up a commission to study and recommend a design. I urge citizens and legislators to support Handy’s bill. Let’s study the flag and its relevance. And having it studied by a commission does not necessarily mean that a new flag will be designed by a committee, but it does insure that additional voices will be heard and alternative symbols considered, as Utah is no longer the monocultural, Mormon-dominated state it strived to be for so long.
I propose that as designs and symbols are considered, Utah’s official works of art — Native American Rock Art — be given a high priority. The state takes its name from the Ute tribe, and the Utes and their predecessors inhabited this land for more than 10,000 years before any Europeans arrived.
The world-renowned Native American rock art that graces the state’s cliffs and canyons is beautiful, abundant and meaningful. A flag displaying the ancient art would pay homage to the state’s original inhabitants and their cultural traditions that are still alive and thriving. And it would unmistakably symbolize and represent Utah, its people, its land, its heritage. There is not a more fitting symbol to fly above the Capitol. A flag for all Utahns to be proud of.
Kevin T. Jones is an archaeologist and writer who served as the state archaeologist of Utah for 17 years. He lives in southwest Colorado.