Nebraska Girl Scouts seek Gov. Pillen’s support in designating official state tartan

Efforts continue the work of Nebraska State Tartan Task Force from early 2019

By: - March 21, 2023 5:15 am
Girl Scouts pose for a photo at a camp in the Apostle Islands. They are leading efforts for the governor to designate an official state tartan.

Members of Girl Scout Senior Honor Troop 42146 have stepped up on efforts for Nebraska to have an official state tartan, a woolen cloth woven in several plaid patterns important to Scottish and Irish cultures. The troop is pictured in June 2022 at a camp in the Apostle Islands. From left, Cassandra Lucas, Jessica Johnson, Madison Ensign, Katie Rice, Kathy Robbins-Wise, Catherine Johnson and Patricia Lucas. (Courtesy of Kathy Robbins-Wise)

LINCOLN — Four Girl Scouts in Senior Honor Troop 42146 are getting involved in Nebraska politics with one request: for Gov. Jim Pillen to designate an official state tartan.

A tartan is a woolen cloth woven in a plaid pattern. Tartans are culturally important for Scottish and Irish families but are also worn worldwide. Originally in Scotland, tartans were used to identify families not necessarily related by blood.

“Here in Nebraska, we’re a family,” said Kathy Robbins-Wise, primary troop leader of 42146. “All you’ve got to do is look at Nebraska on a Husker game day and you know: We’re all family.”

Last year, then-Gov. Pete Ricketts proclaimed April 6 as Nebraska State Tartan Day, which allowed a local task force to register a “Nebraska” tartan with The Scottish Registry of Tartans. That design is now freely available for use.

Girl Scouts in Senior Honor Troop 42146 Katie Rice, left, and Catherine Johnson, right, present State Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue with a scarf bearing what could be Nebraska’s official tartan on Monday, March 13, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Courtesy of State Sen. Carol Blood)

The four-member Girl Scout troop hopes the tartan will be added to the official state symbols, such as Kool-aid, milk, the honeybee and the goldenrod.

Nebraska would join more than 37 states, as well as all branches of the U.S. Armed Services and the national government, which have their own tartans.

Ricketts declined to make the official designation but encouraged the Scouts to ask the Legislature instead. The troop is seeking Pillen’s approval before March 31 to earn a Silver Award for all members of the troop who helped, with support from state lawmakers.

“Nebraskans work hard each and every day,” said Cassandra Lucas, a 15-year-old troop member. “The tartan is something that Nebraskans can see and touch and represents unity with their community.”

‘Leaders of tomorrow’

State Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue, who was a Girl Scout, is one of those lawmakers helping.

Girl Scout troop members from across the state join State Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue, center, on Girl Scout Legislative Day on Monday, March 13, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Courtesy of State Sen. Carol Blood)

She said she’s seen the girls learn legislative procedures. She said she will introduce legislation in January to designate the tartan if Pillen does not act before then.

“Today it’s a tartan, but tomorrow is it going to be taxes or Health and Human Services?” Blood said. “I love that they learned how the process works and that if they use their voice, they can get something as a result of that. They’re finding out that they have power.”

Before 1997, all state symbols were designated through legislative action, but the Legislature granted the governor the authority to do so that year.

Then-Gov. Ben Nelson, for example, designated various state symbols, including Kool-Aid (state soft drink), milk (state beverage), the Platte River (state river) and square dance (state American folk dance).

It’s because of that authority the Girl Scouts are hoping to find an ally in Pillen.

Robbins-Wise said Ricketts did not exercise the authority because it was “tradition” that cultural matters go through the Legislature.

“The tartan is a beautiful way to symbolize the people and land of Nebraska while acknowledging the contributions of those before us,” said Katie Rice, a 14-year-old troop member. “I’m glad to be able to help present this tartan to others and make it our official state tartan.”

Robbins-Wise said it’s been gratifying to watch the group grow into young ladies. She has known some of the girls since kindergarten.

“They’re the leaders of tomorrow, and these girls are coming up with ideas and they’re finding information,” Robbins-Wise said. “It just really makes my heart full to see them blossom the way they have.”

Meaning behind every color

The “Nebraska” tartan includes six colors with some symbolism derived from “Beautiful Nebraska,” the official state song.

A prototype of what could be the Nebraska’s official tartan designed by Locharron of Scotland and registered on June 14, 2022. (Courtesy of The Scottish Register of Tartans)

Blue represents the state’s rivers, yellow the prairies and Sand Hills, green the state’s trees and agriculture, black the state’s railroads, scarlet the “bloodshed of those gone before us” and white the state’s motto: “Equality Before the Law.”

“I believe that it is important to recognize what the state of Nebraska offers to not only the people of Nebraska but the nation as a whole,” said Madison Ensign, a 15-year-old troop member.

Pillen’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment about the tartan.

“I think it is a really good way to celebrate the Nebraska culture. I think it is a way we can show our appreciation for the land and the people,” said Catherine Johnson, a 15-year-old troop member.

Four years in the making

Susan Ritta, radio DJ for KZUM’s Thunder on the Plains in Lincoln, Nebraska’s only Celtic music radio show, said the idea for the tartan began in early 2019.

Ritta said she noticed that Nebraska was not among the states with a state tartan and contacted various organizations about starting an effort to have one. 

Together, Ritta said, they worked to ensure that the design would be “for all Nebraskans and not just one person” and that everybody could take ownership and pride in it.

“That’s what I’m really proud of is the fact that we are all able to come together even with our own individual perspectives and viewpoints and goals for our organizations,” Ritta said.

Members of the Nebraska State Tartan Task Force:

  • Susan Ritta, KZUM 89.3’s Thunder on the Plains.
  • Caryl Bohn, Robbins-Wise, and Morgan Wise, Scottish Society of Nebraska.
  • Lynn Johnson-Romero, Omaha Irish Cultural Center.
  • Dylan Tilley and Ben Coleman, Ancient Order of Hibernians-Lincoln.
  • Josh Haggin, Havala Shearer, and Chad Asherin, Metro Area Kilted Throwers.

Ritta said the efforts by the Girl Scouts show the next generation stepping up to shape the state’s history.

“I really think that these Girl Scouts being a part of this organization are going to stand out in the fact that women are making it happen or making this officially happen at the state level, one way or the other,” Ritta said. “We could not have done this without their efforts.”

State symbols

Nebraska has adopted numerous state symbols since its founding, with nearly half of the designations coming from the Nebraska Legislature. Those denoted by an asterisk were designated by a governor.

State name: “Cornhusker State” (1945), previously the “Tree Planters’ State” (1895)

State flower: Goldenrod (1895)

State flag: State seal in gold and silver on a field of national blue (1925)

State bird: Western meadowlark (1929)

State tree: Cottonwood (1972), previously the American elm (1937)

State fossil: Mammoth (1967)

State gemstone: Blue chalcedony, commonly known as blue agate (1967)

State rock: Prairie agate (1967)

State song: “Beautiful Nebraska” (1967)

State grass: Little bluestem (1969)

State insect: Honeybee (1975)

State soil: Soils of the Holdredge series, classified as Typic Argiustols (1979)

State mammal: White-tailed deer (1981)

State fish: Channel catfish (1997)*

State American folk dance: Square dance (1997)*

State ballad: “A Place Like Nebraska” by Sol Kutler (1997)*

State historic baseball capital: St. Paul, Nebraska (1997)*

State baseball capital: Wakefield, Nebraska (1997)*

State village of lights: Cody, Nebraska (1997)*

State river: Platte River (1998)*

State soft drink: Kool-Aid (1998)*

State beverage: Milk (1998)*

State migratory bird: Sandhill crane (2022)*

State reptile: Ornate box turtle (2022)*

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Zach Wendling
Zach Wendling

Zach Wendling recently graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a double major in journalism and political science. He has interned for The Hill and The News Station in Washington, D.C. He reported for the Nebraska News Service and The Daily Nebraskan before joining the Nebraska Examiner staff as an intern.