We looted the basement of the Smithsonian Institution Archives by posing as doctoral researchers interested in the preservation techniques of really old flags. Our unpaid interns made us fake badges to gain entry to the cryogenic room—next to the Smithsonian staff sauna—where they keep the good stuff. They then helped us digitally smuggle out some of the weirdest and coolest Native American flag designs we could find. Here are a few of them in no particular order.
According to it’s Smithsonian catalog entry, the 1856-adopted seal depicts Tishomingo—dressed in traditional warrior’s attire—whom represents courage. The four head feathers represent four directions/the freedom to choose, the outer gold means purity, purple stands for honor, the arrows are the two divisions of ancient Chickasaw society.
United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians
The tribal seal was originally adopted in 1968 and modified in the early 90’s. The placement of the seal on a white background apparently signifies that the Keetoowah people are at peace.
Crow Creek Sioux Tribe
This wild looking flag is a bit of a conglomeration of three Sioux tribes that formed a treaty in 1868. It isn’t actually abstract but instead depicts three tepees in white with black accents representing the three districts that form the reservation.
According to Wikipedia, the flag was designed by Jay R. Degroat, a student from Mariano Lake, New Mexico and was initially selected from 140 entries for the Navajo flag competition. Where are the other 140 entries?
According to Tony Hillerman of the University of New Mexico, The Navajo Tribal Council officially adopted the Great Seal of the Navajo Tribe in 1952 and “It was designed by John Claw Jr., an Arizona Navajo artist. The fifty arrowheads encircling the seal represent the tribe’s protection within the fifty states“. Thanks Tony.
Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians
These tribes are in Oregon which explains the nature-focused seal.
The Iroquois Confederacy
The flag of the Iroquois Confederacy (or Haudenosaunee flag) is used to represent the six nations of the Iroquois.The tree in the middle is allegedly an eastern white pine which is cool. It was designed in the 1980’s because “the Iroquois lacrosse team needed a flag ahead of a game in Australia”. Interesting.
It is based off of the much older Hiawatha Belt (pictured above), which depicts the five original tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy.
The Métis flag—which features a cool infinity symbol—predates the Flag of Canada by at least 150 years (according to Wikipedia), and is the oldest patriotic flag that is indigenous to Canada. The exact history and meaning of the flag appears to be very messy and contentious so we will not make any claims here other than that it is extremely old and cool.
The Flag of the Oglala Sioux Tribe in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is just a bunch of teepees connected in a circle. Whats not to love?
Apparently The Blackfeet Media Department (no relation to the Department of Information) sponsored a contest to design a flag in 1980. The final design was then chosen by a panel of judges consisting of artists, elders, and community members.
According to a random PDF document by the Montana Office of Public Instruction “the colors and design represent the earth, the cosmos, the elements, the plants, the animals, and the people. The sun rises in the East and circles to the West. The moon rises and sets in this circular motion, as does the cosmos. Blackfeet people pitch the lodges with the doors to the east, knowing that they start life with the circle in mind. The feathers represent the majesty and mysticism of the eagle.” Cool.
According to it’s Smithsonian catalog entry, the seven point star represents the seven clans—Bird, Wild Potato, Deer, Long Hair, Paint, Blue, and Wolf. The surrounding oak leaves and acorns represent the sacred fire and the date the Consitution of the Cherokee Nation West was adopted (September 6th, 1839). The black star represents those who died on the Trail of Tears.
According to the National Museum of the American Indian, the three arrows represent the three subgroups which are named after chiefs; Apuckshenubee, Pushamataha, and Mosholatubbee. The flag was also apparently the first to be adopted by a Native tribe or nation and was “used by confederate Choctaw soldiers during the Civil War” as well as “flown in Iraq by the 120 Engineer Combat Battalion”.
Salt River Pima & Maricopa
The official seal—not the de facto, simplified seal seen above, is more more complex and impressive. Within the ring of the seal is a depiction of the I’itoi, or “man in the maze”, a recurring symbol in Pima art of man’s journey through life and the physical, emotional, spiritual encounters that they encounter. Perhaps we are all the man in the maze.
For more inspiring, strange, and fantastic Native American Tribes, Leagues, and Confederacy flag designs and seals check out the National Museum of the American Indian or check out the book Native American flags by Donald T Healy from your local library.