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What Is the State Motto of Minnesota?

By Britt Archer
Updated May 17, 2024
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Fair-haired immigrants from Sweden and Norway generally come to mind when considering the early population of Minnesota, which became the 32nd state of the Union in 1858. The French, however, had already been in the region for a couple of centuries before Swedish and Norwegian pioneers began to settle there. The French settlers included Jesuit priests and missionaries, and many were voyageurs, or fur traders of French and French-Canadian descent. It is for this reason that it is entirely appropriate for the official state motto of Minnesota to be conveyed in French, L'Etoile du Nord. In English, it means "The Star of the North."

The state’s Legislature voted in 1861 to approve L’Etoile du Nord as the state motto of Minnesota. Henry Sibley, a fur trader of English descent who hailed from Michigan and later became the first state governor, selected it. He was highly educated, and his father served as a judge on the Supreme Court in his home state. Henry Sibley set off from Detroit at the age of 18 to look for adventure, taking a job as a clerk for a trading company. He later served as a Congressional delegate, representing his adopted home of Minnesota. He fostered friendly relations with his neighbors, who were Dakota Indians, or Sioux. Their name for him was “Walker in the Pines.”

When state lawmakers gave official approval to the state motto of Minnesota in 1861, they concurrently approved the state seal. The seal was initially designed 12 years earlier, in 1849, and received a minor redesign in 1983. The state motto of Minnesota is depicted on a banner or scroll that is displayed on the seal.

Seth Eastman, the designer of the seal, was a native of Maine and an artist whose paintings primarily portrayed Minnesota’s Indian tribes. He had learned to sketch while attending West Point, the military academy in New York. While assigned with the military in Minnesota, he married a 15-year-old Dakota Indian girl and fathered a child with her, but ended the union when he left the state.

In addition to the official state motto of Minnesota, the state also has a related nickname, The North Star State. Minnesota is also popularly known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, a slogan it imprints on its license plates. The name, however, is a misnomer because Minnesota's lakes number about 12,000.

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