What started in Model Legislature ended in front of the real state Legislature in St. Paul.
Nathaniel Dennis, a senior at Winona Senior High School, testified in front of the House State and Local Government Finance and Policy Committee at the state Capitol on Feb. 21 in support of HF274, a bill that would create a commission to redesign the state flag.
“It all began freshman year (in Model Legislature), when I argued for changing the state flag,” Dennis said. “This year, I was elected Lieutenant Governor. This experience catapulted me into an understanding of politics and government.”
It also caught the attention of state Rep. Gene Pelowski, a former Winona Senior High School teacher who has served as an advisor and champion of the Model Legislature program since 1975. Model Legislature was started by then-Winona Mayor Norm Indall and the Winona Area Jaycees in 1962 as a way to introduce local high school students to the lawmaking process and is still running strong 60 years later thanks to the support of Pelowski.
But the support doesn’t end there. Pelowski often encourages his former colleagues to use him as a resource in their social studies, history and government classes. As an assignment in Sarah Dixen’s AP Government class, Dennis emailed Pelowski about an issue that was important to him.
The issue? Changing the state flag.
“He spread my name around as a possible testifier for this bill, and I was asked to testify,” Dennis said.
There has been a movement to change the state flag for several reasons, including the imagery that is offensive to Native Americans.
Dennis’ testimony was not based on the imagery of the Native American; Kevin Jensvold, tribal chairman for the Yellow Medicine Dakota of the Upper Sioux Community gave testimony about why the flag is offensive.
Dennis, rather, spoke of the feeling of pride he gets — or rather, doesn’t get — from looking at his state flag.
“I have not once looked at that flag and said ‘Oh, I love that flag,’” Dennis said. “I want to feel pride in my state flag. I believe everybody in this room wants to feel pride in it.”
Dennis said the flag should unify all people as one Minnesota. He urged the committee to keep “pride” in mind as they created the commission to create a new state flag and seal.