CAIRNS Column: Examining the flag of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe

The flag of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe

By Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies
For The Lakota Country Times

This week we continue our examination of the nine flags of nations with reservation lands in South Dakota. Last week we evaluated the Yankton Sioux Tribe flag and awarded its design 3.5 stars out of a possible 5 stars. Not bad, but let’s see if the flag of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe will fare any better!

Remember, flag designs can earn up to one star for each of the five principles of good flag design identified by Ted Kaye in his pamphlet, Good Flag, Bad Flag: How to Design a Great Flag. The principles are 1) keep it simple, 2) make it meaningful, 3) use 2-3 colors, 4) avoid numbers and letters, and 5) be distinctive.

So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the Rosebud Sioux Tribe flag. Its background is white with a border of red half-diamonds that certainly are distinctive, but also result in awkward transitions at its corners. In the center of the flag is a blue plus-sign, a design element often used to represent the four cardinal directions. The plus-sign is on a white diamond-shaped background that is surrounded by three colored borders. The inner one is yellow, the middle one is blue and the outer one is red.

These four colors likewise are often used to represent the four cardinal directions. Encircling this central diamond shape are the words “Rosebud Sioux Tribe” above and “Rosebud, South Dakota” below, all in dark blue letters that together imply an oval. A stylized black feather and small red pipe bowl at both sides of the oval separate the two sets of words. Around these words in another oval are 20 closely-spaced stylized images of a rose flower as seen from directly above, each with eight petals and a small stylized white tipi in its center. These roses symbolize Rosebud Reservation’s 20 communities that are represented on its tribal council.

The flag of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe flies alongside that of the United States. Photo by Rosebud Sioux Tribe

Looking at the whole flag, you have to admit it’s pretty “busy.” If you gave the above description to a child and asked her to draw it, she’d probably get bored halfway through the border triangles! So unfortunately we can’t award a star for simplicity. On the flip side of that, it’s hard not to admit that the design packs a symbolic punch. Clearly a lot of thought went into what elements of the tribe, its people and its land should be represented. And so the Rosebud Sioux Tribe flag gets on the board with one star for meaningfulness.

In regards to the number of different colors used, the flag just barely scores another star for limiting itself to red, yellow and blue (for our purposes, the white background is not counted).

Unfortunately, like almost all of the other flags of tribal nations with lands in South Dakota, the name of the tribe and even its capital’s location are conspicuously spelled out and thus it fails to gain a star for avoiding numbers and letters. Which is a shame, because the overall design is certainly memorable enough for anyone to recognize it right away without having to actually read the flag! So for the fifth criteria, we’ll give it one more star for distinctiveness.

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Based on the five principles of good flag design, the final rating for the flag of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe is 3 out of a possible 5 stars. It’s a middle-of-the-road score, but the flag design has the potential for a four star rating simply by removing its six words.

Up next week, we see if the Oglala Sioux Tribe flag design score can equal or surpass 3.5 stars atop the scoreboard.

(The Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies (CAIRNS), based in Martin, South Dakota, is an Indian-controlled nonprofit research and education center that is committed to advancing knowledge and understanding of American Indian communities and issues important to them by developing quality educational resources and innovative projects that acknowledge and incorporate tribal perspectives, and by serving as a meeting ground for peoples and ideas that support those perspectives.)

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