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Should B.C. change its flag? Indigenous artist aims for debate with new design

Click to play video: 'First Nation artist reimagines B.C flag, sparking conversation' First Nation artist reimagines B.C flag, sparking conversation
An artistic experiment by a First Nations artist, reimagining the B.C. flag is generating a lot of interest and conversation. Catherine Urquhart reports – Aug 17, 2021

Is it time to reimagine British Columbia’s flag?

It’s a conversation Kwakwaka’wakw artist Lou-ann Neel is hoping to start, after sharing her own version of the province’s standard using First Nations design elements from her own practice.

Neel posted the design to Facebook at the end of July to mark the 150th anniversary of B.C.’s entry into confederation, and it’s been widely circulated since.

Read more: Would you re-name B.C.? First Nations artist wants new name for the province

“I wasn’t intending on proposing that we change the flag right now. I wasn’t even proposing that my design should be considered,” she told Global News.

“I thought, ‘There, that ought to start a discussion,’ and that’s what I’m after.”

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Neel’s design is not a wholesale reinvention of the existing flag. Instead, she said she took the existing design and layered it with Kwakwaka’wakw elements to “see what it would look like if I saw myself reflected in our provincial flag.”

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The iconic sun setting over the Pacific ocean remains but is now centred with an eye.

The rays and the waves that surround it have been buttressed with iconography Neel said were meant to convey motion and energy.

Perhaps strikingly, given the ongoing conversation about Canada’s legacy of colonialism and its effects on Indigenous peoples, both the Union Jack and the Crown have been retained, though altered.

Read more: Calls to remove ‘settler’ statues in Victoria after protestors destroy James Cook statue

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Three ovoid shapes adjacent to one another were placed to represent unity, along with the thread connecting where the province has been and where it is going.

“That we’re all standing side by side,” she said.

“I feel like I’ve co-opted the Crown a little bit to say here’s what I think the Crown represents: our past, present, and future.”

The central horizontal bar of the Union Jack has been filled with seven “U” shapes on either side of the crown, which Neel said signify seven generations past and seven generations to come.

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That nod to future generations was particularly important, signifying the need to show care and respect for the land and environment so it is preserved for those yet to come.

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If the flag was meant to spark a conversation, it’s been a success.

Neel said she’s received plenty of feedback both positive and critical, all of which she’s welcomed.

Many people have told her they’d like to see her design adopted, while critics have ranged from suggesting she shouldn’t play with the province’s symbols to arguing the design was too coastal.

Read more: Canada’s school systems are failing to address colonial past: educators

To those who say the flag should not be changed, Neel notes the current design is only 61 years old and was one of several designs considered when it was adopted by then-premier W.A.C. Bennett.

The province has changed a lot since then, including its evolution into a multicultural society — citizens should have a say in what symbols represent them, she argued.

“Change is the only constant,” she said.

“What I want people to think about is what does the flag represent to you … What does it mean, what should it mean? Especially the what should it mean.”

Interest in the design has been so widespread that The Flag Shop in Vancouver is working on producing a special limited run that will be available for sale, with some of the proceeds going to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society.

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