We are not monsters


The world keeps turning on the Mesabi Iron Range. Lawmakers defend the IRRRB in St. Paul, while the local paper lambasts a city council for a foreign steel pipe found in a construction project. At risk, we are told, is “our way of life.” Controversies come and go. Another election year bulges on the horizon.

Two weeks ago I shared a link to a disturbing story by Tom Scheck and Curtis Gilbert from APM Reports, an investigative news operation affiliated with Minnesota Public Radio, about KidsPeace Mesabi Academy, a juvenile detention center in Buhl. Serious allegations of abuse were raised, along with evidence the center failed to report complaints and later interfered with a county investigation of the matter.

Over the next two weeks, several counties around Minnesota pulled their kids out of Mesabi Academy. The county reopened the investigation. But local political leaders remained concerned that all this fuss might cause the facility to close.

Here’s what State Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm) said in a recent follow-up story by APM Reports:

“I’m not sure the level of complaints rises to the level that we should be taking everybody out of there,” he said. “They can’t continue to operate if they don’t have people that are paying the bill. And there are 135 jobs there, which is also a concern when we’ve been going through what we’ve going through on the Iron Range.”

Again, we don’t know everything that’s happened, because of a systematic stonewalling and company policy of discouraging comment about internal matters. We only know that the accusations include physical and sexual abuse of children, and that Mesabi Academy has more complaints — by far — than any other juvenile detention facility in the state.

Today, we learn that Mesabi Academy is suspending new admissions until the conclusion of an investigation. That’s a good start. It’s ridiculous that I have to say this, but when an institution for children is accused of abuse, the correct political position should be to call for a complete, independent investigation of what happened and acceptance of necessary changes and consequences.

As we advocate for an economic system that protects workers, let’s also seek a “way of life” that protects and defends children as vociferously as it does jobs. Let us also consider what we are really saying when we say “our way of life.” We don’t always control what happens to jobs in a capitalist economy, but we do cultivate and maintain the character and values of our region. What do we really stand for?

We face uncertainty, to be sure. Anyone on the Range could be forgiven for being angry or afraid about what’s happening in our economy. But people the world over have faced far greater challenges before. Truth be told, so have we. Character is what you do when no one is watching. Character is revealed in times such as these.

Harsh, defensive overreaction to criticism is no way to dig out of our current mess, whether we’re talking about Mesabi Academy or our local economy. Such impulsive acts of self-preservation and isolation only reinforce the notion that this region isn’t ready to survive, that we don’t deserve help, and that we are getting our just desserts. Insular thinking produces insufficient results. If you want evidence, look at the last 35 years of the Iron Range economy.

So many good people are fighting for the future of the Iron Range right now: Community leaders and business owners. Today hundreds of students walk across the stage at my college to celebrate their graduation. These are the people we should protect and defend.

When “our way of life” becomes political shorthand for “money” we have become corrupted.

We are not monsters. We are the men and women of the Iron Range. We can do better, and most of us are trying. Let us reject those who do not.


  1. Arlene Wheaton says

    I agree…good character and values trump jobs and money every time in my world view. We are truly lost when treating people with dignity and respect is not a No. 1 priority.

  2. Thanks, Aaron

    That needed to be said and hopefully the “talking heads” will listen and hear.

    An ex-Ranger whose heart is still Up North

  3. Thanks for saying this.

    Sen. Tomasoni’s reaction is earily of similar range leaders reactions to concerns about the potential effects of heavy-metal pollution from proposed copper-nickel mining on early childhood development and health. When asked about PolyMet’s potential impacts on Hoyt Lake’s water supply, former mayor Marlene Pospeck is alleged to have said that is wasn’t a problem, because “we’re used to pollution”.

    The situation at Mesabe Academy seems like one more situation where the safety and well being of children is being put at risk by politicians who myopically focus on jobs at any cost.

    It’s starting to remind me of catch-22, and that is a shame and a tragedy. Sen. Tomasoni is a disgrace to the DFL.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.