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Ald Arvina Martin and Alder Maurice Cheeks present the first version of Madison new flag to Rick Stone and Dennis Stone, the designers of Madison’s original flag.

Let’s get one thing clear to start: we love nearly everything about Madison’s original flag. The remarkably simple flag celebrates the unique and beautiful geography of our city.

However, there is no getting around the fact that – at the very center of the design – was a Native American symbol that was culturally appropriated. The sun symbol at the center of our flag is a sacred symbol used by the Zia Pueblo tribe without their permission.

Madison’s flag was designed in the 1960’s by two Boy Scouts, who assuredly meant no ill will to the Zia people by using their sacred symbol. And yes, the symbol looks quite a bit like the Capitol from above, but regardless of the intent behind the symbol’s usage, it does not absolve our continued use of an appropriated symbol today.

As elected officials, we accept the responsibility to address a problematic part of Madison’s past and present, and in the process, help define Madison’s values. Symbols matter, and when we ensure that the symbols representing our city are not stolen or appropriated, we signal to the world that our city values and respects all cultures.

This is a teachable moment about the importance of diverse representation. Together, as a Native American woman and a biracial black man, we are proud of the work we have done to help broaden the perspectives on the council and identify our blind spots — including this symbol in our flag.

We took the lead on this issue because it is part of a greater need to make our city a more accepting place for everyone as our population grows and diversifies. As parents of young children, we want our home to be more welcoming, and we want our kids to feel represented.

It is also why we have both taken the bold step of running for higher office. Our city and our state need leaders with diverse backgrounds and perspectives to help bring innovative solutions to our most difficult and persistent problems.

In this moment in time, we are taking a step in the right direction for our city, in the way that our community presents ourselves to the world. We are pleased that the Madison Common Council unanimously approved our proposal last night and replaced the Zia Pueblo symbol in the center of the flag with a gold circle that represents the Capitol dome.

With this change, we have done the right thing by eliminating the cultural appropriation, while retaining the history, tradition, and original intent of the flag.

Flags represent who we are. Going forward, Madison’s new flag ensures that we represent our city and our values with pride, while ensuring our city is a more inclusive place for all.

Written by Arvina Martin and Maurice Cheeks

Ald. Arvina Martin, District 11, and Ald. Maurice Cheeks, District 10, are members of the Madison Common Council.

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