'We finally found one another': Man sent to New Zealand in Sixties Scoop connects with Winnipeg family

Brent Mitchell was born in Manitoba but sent to live in foster care in New Zealand as a child. He travelled to Winnipeg for the first time to meet two of his siblings.

Brent Mitchell was taken away from his Métis mom as an infant and sent to New Zealand at age 5

Siblings Penny Carberry, Brent Mitchell and Ron Mitchell embrace just minutes after meeting for the first time after all being adopted out during the Sixties Scoop. (Jillian Taylor/ CBC)

Brent Mitchell says he immediately recognized his brother and sister when he walked through the international arrivals gate at the Winnipeg airport, even though he had never seen them before.

"Family is family. We're blood," said Mitchell, who was sent to live with a foster family in New Zealand when he was five years old.

Mitchell is a product of the Sixties Scoop, the name given to the Canadian government's practice from the 1960s to 1980s of removing Indigenous children from their homes and placing them in foster care or putting them up for adoption.

Brent Mitchell was sent to live with a foster family in New Zealand when he was five years old. (Lyza Sale/ CBC)
"I've always held on to my Canadian passport all the time I have been in New Zealand," said the 59-year-old. "I have never wanted to be a New Zealand citizen because it just means more to me where I come from, my roots."

Mitchell said growing up was tough — his foster family never adopted him and he hasn't spoken to them since he was a teenager.

He said he learned about his Indigenous heritage while living in a group home for "naughty children," as he describes it.

"That is when I demanded — I was 15 —  to come back to Canada," he said. "They said I had no family in Canada to come back to."

But that didn't discourage him. In 1997, he asked the New Zealand government for his foster care files. That's where he found the names and birthdates of his siblings — six of them, to be exact.  

But it took almost 20 years for him to find his sister, Penny Carberry. On June 5, a letter arrived at her Calgary home from the Canadian Post Adoption Registries containing Mitchell's contact information.

"I was very shocked that he was way out there [in New Zealand]," said Carberry. "It is very unfair that they shipped him so far."

2nd reunion for family

This is the second time in a decade a blood brother has reached out to Carberry. She met her oldest brother, Ron Mitchell, eight years ago.

He found out he was a Mitchell by accident.

"I lost my ID. My adoptive name was Ron Popplestone and I wrote the government and they wrote back saying there is no such person," he said. "They sent me this Mitchell name, so that's how it all started."

Penny Carberry and Ron Mitchell were both taken from their mother as infants and put into the foster-care system. They reunited eight years ago. (Lyza Sale/ CBC)
Ron was born in 1956 and put into foster care when he was six months old. He said he had a good life with his foster family and never thought about looking up his birth family until he lost his ID.

"I did start to dig, but I almost gave up because of the government's privacy act. They just stop you at every turn, but this one lady bent the rules," he said.

Carberry jokes about her reaction when she connected with Ron.

"I had two [foster] brothers that I grew up with and I thought to myself at first, 'Oh no, not another brother,'" she said with a laugh.

'I've been waiting so long'

Carberry was born in 1961 and taken from her mother when she was three months old.

She knew she was Métis and even knew the names of her birth mother and father, because they were recorded on her christening certificate.

"I really missed out on the culture, learning about the culture, being proud of the culture," said Carberry. "[I] had a bit of an identity thing happening. You just didn't feel you belonged anywhere."

She said now knowing two of her brothers will help her understand more, especially since Brent has done a lot of research on the family and will be sharing their history during his visit.

"We finally found one another," said Brent. "I've been waiting so long and I finally found part of my family."  

The three are hoping to eventually connect with the rest of their siblings — they have four more and know their names, but have never made contact.

A Manitoba family grew by one today. For decades, each of three siblings had no idea the others were out there, let alone that one was half a world away. CBC's Jillian Taylor has more on the Mitchell family's story with the Sixties Scoop. 2:43

About the Author

Jillian Taylor

CBC Reporter

Jillian Taylor has been with CBC Manitoba since 2012 and has been reporting for a decade. She was born and raised in Manitoba and is a member of the Fisher River Cree Nation. In 2014, she was awarded the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association's travel bursary, which took her to Australia to work with Indigenous journalists. Find her on Twitter: @JillianLTaylor