Protest reaches Carlton as tribal members condemn alleged abuse in foster homes
Protesters say it's time to act to remove 10 children from two homes where they say social media posts depict ongoing abuse.
CARLTON — A weeklong protest of two residential foster homes in Cloquet and the Fond du Lac Reservation continued outside the Carlton County Courthouse on Tuesday as local tribal members appealed to release the children from their current foster custody.
“Every second those children are in that home they’re being damaged,” Danielle Martineau said, standing in solidarity with other tribal members, including the mother to two of the 10 children in the foster homes.
The protests began in subzero temperatures outside the foster homes last week, after compromising images and video emerged on social media of children in the foster homes.
The Cloquet Police Department said it is investigating the situation, along with Carlton County Public Health and Human Services, the county attorney's office and the Fond du Lac Reservation.
“Unfortunately, because these are active cases involving juveniles and child protection issues, we cannot comment or respond further due to data practice laws,” Police Chief Derek Randall said. “The Cloquet Police Department and the assisting agencies take all complaints and allegations regarding the safety of others seriously.”
The complainants said the foster homes are operated by tribal members.
“Those are my nephews in that home, and when I saw photos I felt sick to my stomach and I broke out crying,” Taysha Martineau said. “It’s not just about the child abuse — this is a person the community has trusted with care of children for generations.”
Ashley Roy is a mother of a boy and girl, ages 8 and 5, respectively, who live in the foster homes. Her son appears in one of the circulated photos, seeming to depict a caregiver pulling at a distressed boy by the skin of his neck.
“With no regard to reunification, our children were stolen,” said Roy, explaining that her children have been in foster custody for four years — past time, she said, for them to be returned to her.
The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa issued a statement about the situation.
“The Band is working closely with Carlton County to conduct a thorough investigation,” the Band’s statement said, noting that jurisdiction for the child protection cases belongs with Carlton County.
Dave Lee, Carlton County director of public health and human services, issued a statement regarding the situation, citing legal reasons for why he couldn't comment further about a particular investigation.
"Carlton County is aware of the allegations," Lee's statement said. "We take all matters regarding the safety and well-being of children seriously and investigate any and all allegations of maltreatment."
The Band urged people to refrain from making further social media posts about the situation.
But protesters were not of a mind to stop raising awareness, arguing the processes weren't happening fast enough and that the system causes further harm to Native American children.
“This is a huge failure of Carlton County and it’s not the first time it happened,” Taysha Martineau said.
“It’s difficult to stand here with people I love and fight against a system that’s been oppressing Indigenous people for thousands of years,” said Jessica Gidagaakoons Smith, a local advocate who organized the rally.
Maija Stillday, a Band member from Superior, stood alongside the mother, Roy.
“I’m just a mom standing with this mom,” Stillday said. “It could easily be my kids, too.”
Protesters described the situation as desperate, and one that is forcing them to act after they say meetings with county and tribal officials have failed.
County officials removed the children temporarily for 72 hours earlier this month, the protesters said, but the children were returned to the foster homes at the end of the temporary hold. It's unclear why that decision was made.
The protest in Cloquet has unfolded throughout the week near a street corner with heavy traffic. The News Tribune generally does not identify subjects until charges have been filed. The protesters described the foster care operators as longtime caregivers, including one who worked inside child protection on the Fond du Lac Reservation.
"She's targeting the most vulnerable out of our children — the ones whose parents are struggling with active addiction," Taysha Martineau said. "Those children in that home right now matter to us; they matter to their community and, regardless of their parents’ past mistakes, they matter to the parents."