Community tries to heal after deaths
March 13, 2020
Two days after Jackie DeFoe and her 20-month-old child were found dead, a crowd of more than 75 friends, family and fellow Fond du Lac band members gathered and marched in her memory. Before starting the trek along Big Lake Road they made a giant circle, prayed, listened to drums and song, and smudged - wafting the smoke from a bowl of burning sage over their bodies to purify the body and soul, and cleanse any negative energy.
The walk started only a block or two away from the house where DeFoe, 27, and her son, Kevin, were discovered by police during a welfare check Saturday, March 7. An autopsy later revealed that DeFoe was 13 weeks pregnant. Her boyfriend, Sheldon James Thompson, 33, was arrested Sunday night following an intense and collaborative search by local law enforcement. He was charged with three counts of second-degree murder Tuesday.
News of DeFoe's death rocked the tribal community, many who knew her or Thompson or both.
Only a year older than Jackie, Larissa Bosto said she found out her cousin had been killed on Facebook.
"I couldn't believe it," Bosto said. "It's so hard to believe, especially when it's a family member."
The group walked the same route Jackie did each workday: From the Min-No-Aya Win clinic down a wide asphalt path to the Fond du Lac Tribal Center 1.4 miles away.
As she walked, somber and serious, Bosto held a placard with a photo of Jackie trimmed in red, the official color of the movement that strives to highlight missing and murdered indigenous women.
She remembered her cousin as many things: a great mom, a hard worker, funny.
"She had a really loud laugh, a contagious laugh," Bosto said. "I'm gonna miss her and her baby."
Farther ahead, Erin and Alana Lemieux-DeFoe walked arm in arm, a bright red hand painted diagonally across both their mouths, a startling image that they say is meant to tell the world they can't be silenced about the violence suffered by indigenous women.
Erin is also Jackie's cousin. Like Bosto, she remembers Jackie as being happy, funny, always laughing. A good mom.
When asked if they've had family other members who could be counted among the missing and murdered, Alana says it goes beyond bloodlines.
"Everyone in our community is basically family," she said. "So when any member of a Native American community is missing or hurt, we all hurt."
John Diver helped organize Monday's walk as part of the Ho-wah group.
"It gets them together," he said, holding eagle feathers in his hand. "Then it's easy for everyone to grieve, and there's more community support. It's sad that something tragic like this has to happen for the community to get together."
Diver said he also hoped the walk would create more awareness of domestic violence and drug use.
"Most of the time, they're linked," he said.
When the walkers reached the tribal center Monday, they gathered in a small dining room, again making a circle around the perimeter of the room, while some rested at the tables.
Ashley Diver addressed the crowd.
"Thank you all for coming out for Jackie and the babies," she said. "I know this hit the community pretty hard, but I want everybody to keep both sides of the family in their prayers."
Taysha Martineau said the Gitchigumi Scouts had been working with Jackie DeFoe.
"We're not social workers or law enforcement, but we're here for you as a resource," she said, adding that the group is buying 30 pepper spray devices they can give to women who want it in honor of Jackie. "It's all about female empowerment. If you don't feel safe, please reach out to us."
Lyz Jaakola was blunt, but encouraging, admitting that she was scolding "like an Auntie."
"It has to stop and it begins with how we treat each other, how we talk to each other," she said. "The violence and negativity has to stop. It's not a joke when you talk that way."
She urged people to think how precious life is every day, their own lives and the lives of those they love.
"Talking and joking about hurting each other, that's not our way," she said. "Knock it off. We don't need to bury our young people, our children. ... Make a commitment - it stops today."
Tribal chairman Kevin DuPuis talked about when his sister was killed violently and he had to identify her body, and growing up in a violent home. But he contrasted that with softball games in Sawyer as a kid that drew all kinds of kids and adults who would bring out barbecue grills and just have a good time together.
He urged people to try to forgive, but not to forget. He urged anyone who can't control their temper to learn how, so they don't inflict that on the next generation.
"I had to ID my sister - I took that burden," he said. "Nobody else needs to take that burden. Respect one another, talk."
After a half hour or so inside, the group headed back to the clinic and their lives.
"I'm glad the community came together," Bosto said. "It helps."
FYI: Help is available
The Fond du Lac Human Services Division is providing supportive services at the Brookston, Cloquet, and Sawyer Community Centers. Behavioral Health, Social Services, and Substance Use Disorder staff will be available to provide support to the community. The Behavioral Health Department is open and taking referrals, call 218-879-1227.
Fond du Lac Social Services Advocacy Program offers caring, culturally-sensitive advocacy for community members in times of crisis. Advocates assist with support, education, networking, court advocacy, self-help groups, and referrals to victims facing domestic abuse, sexual assault, and general crime. The crisis line 218-348-1817 is answered 24 hours a day and staff can assist with reporting a crime to law enforcement, providing orders for protection and harassment orders, obtaining available community resources, and providing support.
Other resources for people affected by domestic violence include following:
-The American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO) Dabinoo'igan Emergency Domestic Violence Shelter at 218-722-2247.
-The Center Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse (CASDA) in Superior at 715-392-3136.
-Safe Haven Shelter & Resource Center in Duluth at 218-728-6481.
- Family Pathways, otherwise known as Refuge Network, at crisis line 800-338-7233.
- Cloquet Safe Exchange and Carlton Youth Shelter for young adults who need a safe place to stay. Call 218-879-1527
-Check out the Gitchigumi Scouts Facebook page for personal help and pepper spray.
-There will be a smudging walk from the Fond du Lac Gas and Grocery to the Tribal Center on Big Lake Road at 1 p.m. Sunday, March 15, followed by a brunch and talking circle to help Native American people struggling with addiction or other issues.