Indigenous artist re-imagines British Columbia’s flag


It’s a flag that was never meant to be a flag.

At least that’s what Lou-ann Neel says, who was just ‘playing around’ when she decided to re-imagine British Columbia’s flag.

“I was not expecting the kind of response I’ve received,” said Neel.

In an artistic warm-up, she super-imposed Kwakwaka’wakw shapes and symbols like the ovoid and the split U onto the flag. The sun, now has an eye, watching us while it sets. Seven ovoids now head towards the crown, seven away from it.

“We’re always mindful of the seven generations before us that paved the way for us to be here today,” said Neel, explaining the meaning. “Our job is that we’re thinking ahead to the next seven generations as well.”

Neel calls it an ‘artistic intervention’. A re-imagination, aimed at starting a conversation.

“The current representation of the flag doesn’t carry anything that represents us being here and still being here. So I wanted to push the discussion more than anything, not so much here is how I think the flag should be changed,” said Neel.

Now though, that conversation is underway.

She posted her rendition of B.C.’s flag for the province’s 150th anniversary on Facebook at the end of July. Since then, she’s received hundreds of likes, shares, and requests to print her flag.

There’s been so much demand The Flag Shop has a meeting Tuesday with her, to hopefully start to carry the new flag.

And there’s precedent with other artists having their take on the provincial flag. On the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery building at UBC is Marianne Nicholson’s reworked B.C. provincial flag. Nicholson inverted the union jack, titling her piece “The Sun is Setting on the British Empire.”

Another Vancouver Island Indigenous artist is known for having reimagined Canada’s national flag. On Kwakwaka’wakw artist Curtis Wilson’s Canadian flag, salmon and orcas swim.

The design is called Gelgapola, which translates to “standing together in support of each other.”

And there’s demand for these new designs. The Flag Shop says Wilson’s design is the only reason their business made it through the pandemic.

“Our web sales in June 2021 were the highest they’ve ever been in the history of The Flag Shop. That’s including Canada 150 and the 2010 Olympics. That’s because of Curtis Wilson’s ‘Canadian Native Flag’,” said Susan Braverman, owner of the Flag Shop to CHEK News in a statement.

And exports may have the reason why.

“A flag is a visible symbol of an invisible bond,” said Ted Kaye with the North American Vexillological Association, who studies the history, symbolism, and usage of flags.

“One hundred and fifty years is a very short time frame for the land that is B.C., and that flag is a tribute to the fact that people were here long before B.C. was organized.”

Kaye goes on to say flags communicate identity, distinguish from others, show connections and build commonality.

So, does B.C.’s flag need to change?

“I haven’t turned my mind and I don’t think the government has to the need for a new flag if there is any. I’m not sure that’s a high priority at this time,” said Murray Rankin, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.

Lou-ann is hoping all British Columbians weigh-in, on how we as a province should be represented in the fabric that unites us.

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Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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