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What Is the History of the State Seal of Minnesota?

Marlene Garcia
Marlene Garcia

The state seal of Minnesota has created controversy since its adoption in 1849 over the portrayal of a Sioux Indian. Seth Eastman, whose wife authored books about the Native American population of the state, drew the first version of the state seal. Eastman’s sketch might have portrayed Indians as inferior, which mirrored the accepted belief of many and was a topic of concern at the time. Minnesota was still a territory when the state seal was approved.

Minnesota's first state seal showed a shoeless farmer standing near the Mississippi River watching an Indian on horseback riding off into the sunset. The sun was depicted, with the Latin motto of the state proclaiming, “I wish to see what is beyond.” When the image was cast into bronze, the Latin phrase was spelled wrong, which gave it the nonsensical translation of “I cover to see what is above.”

A tree stump on the Minnesota state seal represents the logging industry.
A tree stump on the Minnesota state seal represents the logging industry.

When Minnesota became a state in 1858, its secretary of state asked the governor for an official state seal of Minnesota to conduct business. Gov. Henry Sibley permitted the use of the territorial seal until a new symbol could be designed. The first revision showed the Indian riding his horse to the left and the farmer plowing while facing the right. “The Star of the North,” in French, replaced the Latin phrase on the new state seal of Minnesota.

A bronze cast of the seal was accidentally lost during a devastating fire at the state capitol in 1881. A Dutch citizen found it in the street and carried it with him to Europe, unaware of what the item represented. He later decided to return the state seal of Minnesota via a couple who traveled to England to retrieve it. By that time, craftsmen had engraved a new seal, so the lost one was given to a museum.

Minnesota Indian tribes questioned the negative symbolism attached to the seal in the 1960s, prompting a new version of the state seal of Minnesota. In this revision, a Caucasian rider took the place of the Indian horseman. The seal ceased being used on Minnesota's official documents in 1971.

The controversy arose again in the early 1980s, when legislators voted to return the Indian image to the state seal of Minnesota, along with an explanation for the action. Lawmakers wrote that Native Americans represented the state’s heritage in hunting, the sun depicted summer, and the farmer’s plow, gun, and ax celebrated the state’s history of hard labor and agriculture. A tree stump near the farmer was a symbol of the logging industry in Minnesota, while the Mississippi River indicated transportation routes.

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    • A tree stump on the Minnesota state seal represents the logging industry.
      By: onepony
      A tree stump on the Minnesota state seal represents the logging industry.