​​L 'Association des Français du Nord

Afran Board 1995 - L-R (Back row) Ann Healy, Pam Page, Marie Scott, Red Lakes Falls, Curt Huot, Thief River Falls, Carole Uebe and Virgil Benoit, Red Lake Falls (Front Row) John Thibert, Jim Scott, and Pierre Uebe.

History of the Mural

Old Crossing Treaty Mural - On display in the Polk County Museum

Commissioned by the AFRAN society through a grant.

Bennett Brien was commissioned to paint the mural in May of 1987. Brien, an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewas who identifies with the Métis culture, began in the spring of 1987, almost completed a mural - then decided it did not portray the treaty properly. After obliterating this start with paint, Brien completed this mural after working all summer at it. He continued his education, completing his Masters of Fine Arts degree at UND. 

Brien brought his outlook and thoughts on the treaty to the mural, remembering that the treaty turned over 11 million acres of northeastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota land to the U.S. government. Chippewa Indians got about $500,000.00 in return. The negotiators, Alexander Ramsey, for one, are painted as sinister figures with grins and dark glasses. 

Virgil Benoit, President of AFRAN then and now, said, "Brien interprets a side of the treaty negotiations with irony, humor, and seriousness. The meaning will not be the same for everyone."

Brien portrays a Métis child fishing in the river, a man helps pull an ox cart through the crossing - likely activities at the time since the site was a major crossing with good access to the river. A Custer-like figure stands on the river bank, casually allowing his gun to point at the back of one of the Indian negotiators. Brien pictures a golden-haired Cavalry man to represent the military presence at the Old Crossing - as if, even without the treaty, the government would have gotten the land somehow.

A Métis trapper watching the children fish, has his own rifle cunningly tilted at the Custer figure. A girl in a wigwam reaches out for her doll, sensing she should hide it before it's taken away in the big land deal. Another older Chippewa girl in the background is learning the work and traditions of her mother even as the treaty negotiations continue.

Near the negotiators, a man places a letter in the hollow trunk of a big cottonwood tree, a "real happening" of that era at this popular crossing between Fort Garry, Manitoba, and St. Paul.

Recap - Gene Miller, 1995
Photo - Wayne Anderson