After more than five decades, a man who was sent from Manitoba to New Zealand as a boy in the Sixties Scoop has returned to Canada for the first time.
Brent Mitchell was apprehended by child welfare authorities in Winnipeg when he was just one. After bouncing through seven foster homes, he was sent to a foster family in New Zealand in 1963 when he was five years old.
He arrived in Ottawa early Friday morning for a special gathering of Sixties Scoop survivors this weekend organized by the Legacy of Hope Foundation.
"I'm trying not to get emotional, but I can't help it, because this is home," said Mitchell in a downtown Ottawa hotel room.
A return to Canada and a better understanding of his Indigenous roots are what he's longed for his entire life. An agreement between child welfare authorities in both countries sent him from Canada to New Zealand, where Mitchell ended up with another foster family for the rest of his childhood.
He endured physical and emotional abuse in that home, as well as sexual abuse at the hands of a predator outside of the family.
'I knew there was something'
"My first 18 to 19 years of life was just a nightmare. But for me I always hang on to being Canadian. I never let it go. I knew there was something, I didn't know what," he said.
"All I was told was my mother was part Indian, and so I think I held that close to me the whole time. I always wanted to find out where, and what tribe."
But Mitchell spent much of his young life feeling like a loner, and he struggled with the pain from the abuse he suffered, which led to three suicide attempts.
While he was able to glean some information from social workers in New Zealand that he was "Cree Indian" from Canada, it wasn't until he tracked down some of his child welfare file in 1997 that he began piecing together his background. It showed that his mother was Métis, born in Pine Falls, Manitoba.
He also learned he had six siblings, all of whom were adopted out into different families. The truth of what happened to him and his family, though, outraged him.
"If they hadn't taken me from here, I wouldn't have suffered at the hands of my foster parents and others. And then maybe I'd know my brothers and sisters," he said.
"You don't realize how much you want to have … you need family. I went for years and years without a family."
Mitchell and his daughter (he has four adult children, including three sons) turned to the internet for answers. Unbeknownst to him, she found a call for Sixties Scoop survivors to be part of a special project here in Canada, and put his name forward.
"We did a call for proposals, if you will, of interested Sixties Scoop survivors who wanted to come in and tell their story and have us record their testimony," said Teresa Edwards, executive director of the Legacy of Hope Foundation.
"And that would in turn form the content for an exhibition that we would launch in the fall, and it would be a travelling exhibition."
The Legacy of Hope Foundation created a similar project called 100 Years of Loss to commemorate the tragic legacy of Canada's residential school system. The interactive display toured across the country to coincide with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's events.
'The journey begins now'
Twelve survivors in total will be in Ottawa on March 4 and 5 to record their stories, network, take part in ceremonies, and help each other on a path to healing. Ottawa-based Duane Morrisseau-Beck, originally taken from his family in Manitoba, is one of them.
"The crux of our work has always really been about trying to educate to get our stories heard," he said. "Because I think for the most part, the Sixties Scoop is still not where it needs to be in terms of [the] Canadian mainstream."
To his surprise, Mitchell's daughter approached him six weeks ago about flying to Canada to take part. He was overwhelmed by the opportunity to return home and learn more about his Indigenous background and culture with others who were adopted out in the Sixties Scoop.
"I'm here. It's amazing. The journey begins now — my journey," he said.
"For me now, it looks like there's light at the end of the tunnel. If I can find family — even if it's one — it would be nice."