When Kwakwaka’wakw artist Lou-Ann Neel shared her reimagined flag of British Columbia on social media, she had no idea the design would be so popular.
“I’ve had so many people reaching out to me telling me how much they like it. It’s been great,” she said.
Neel had thought of the design for a long time prior to revealing it on the province’s 150th anniversary (July 20).
Her design incorporates Kwakwaka’wakw artistic elements that breathe new life into B.C.’s 61-year-old flag. Neel designed the sun to look like an eye that’s commonly featured on Indigenous depictions of orcas. The shapes in the water are inspired by a Kwakwaka’wakw legend of a sea serpent, which is Neel’s family crest.
On the Union Jack, Neel kept things simple. She acknowledged that many in B.C. dislike the Union Jack and don’t feel represented by what was once the symbol of the British Empire. Neel kept the Union Jack largely the same, but included seven sideways U-shapes on either side of the crown to represent seven generations of the past and seven generations into the future.
“I used our designs because that’s what I know,” Neel said. “People have asked me if I could include little pieces from other Nations, but that isn’t my art to do.”
Neel said she doesn’t feel represented by the current provincial flag and hopes her art can open up a dialogue on a more inclusive provincial flag design.
Since posting the flag to Twitter and Facebook, her design has garnered thousands of likes and hundreds of shares across both platforms. She says she didn’t plan to make a physical version of the flag, but after being asked for flags by numerous people, she’s considering the idea.
“It’s challenging to find a supplier,” Neel said. “Plus my two jobs keep me pretty busy. It’s hard to also do art sales on the side.”
Neel works as the curator for Indigenous Collections and the head of the Indigenous Collections and Repatriation Department at the Royal BC Museum. She’s been working with the museum since 2018 and works closely with First Nations across the province to address repatriation of Indigenous artworks, regalia and other important objects.
While she doesn’t expect the province will adopt her design as the official provincial flag, Neel would like to see a provincial flag that better represents all people living in British Columbia.
Neel plans to create an oil painting of the flag sell it at auction and donate the proceeds to the Indian Residential School Survivor Society.
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