A judge ordered two boys removed from the care of their custodial parent Tuesday as Carlton County investigated allegations of abuse at their home and another with close ties.
The case has drawn attention online and in the streets of Cloquet and Carlton, Minn., where in recent weeks friends and family members have gathered to show support for the children — and share similar stories.
"These incidents did not occur in a vacuum," said Scott Buchanan, attorney for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, which petitioned the court to have the boys removed from one of the homes.
Carlton County District Judge Rebekka Stumme said in a hearing held via Zoom, which attracted 91 virtual attendees, that she was taking seriously the tribe's concerns about long-term abuse in the homes and that the children would be removed until the investigation was completed.
The two boys, who are enrolled band members, were among about 10 children who were briefly removed from two homes in early January while social services addressed complaints made by Danielle Martineau, who has had several relatives pass through the homes of the care providers in question.
Within 72 hours of that investigation, the children were returned to the homes where the alleged abuse occurred.
"I'm not done with this," Martineau said afterwards. "These kids do not deserve this. I'm not going to let the system fail them again."
Tuesday's hearing was held after the band petitioned to remove the two boys from a home on the reservation. The other home is in Cloquet.
Martineau said stories of the violence against several children surfaced in late December when her family gathered for her mother's funeral. Three of her nieces told of physical and verbal abuse they either experienced or witnessed at the hands of the care providers. Some of the alleged abuse was caught on camera.
One photo shows a woman with her face inches from a toddler's face, her fingers pinching the skin on his upper chest area. In a video, another woman repeatedly hits a young child.
Ashley Roy found the video, which is a couple years old, on Facebook and recognized her daughter, who had been put in foster care as a baby.
"To see my daughter beat like that, to hear her scream like that and I can't do anything about it — it's gut wrenching," Roy said. "There's not much I can do. I take it day by day. I pray a lot."
In the past few weeks, Martineau has contacted media, made repeated posts on Facebook that have gained comments and shares, and has been a part of daily public gatherings to show support for the children.
Natasha Ammesmaki, 20, and two siblings initially told Martineau about the abuse they experienced and witnessed while growing up in one of the homes. Two of her younger brothers were among the 10 who were initially removed from the homes of the care providers.
Ammesmaki said she wants people to see that anything can happen behind closed doors.
"I want the system, at its core, ripped apart and rebuilt," she said. "There's too many kids coming forward with (stories of) abuse and it needs to be stopped and looked at in a deeper form.
"Everything needs to be looked at and figured out how it can be better. If I could, I would love to be a part of it."