Nova Scotia

Former Sipekne'katik chief discovers a dozen half-siblings he never knew he had

Rufus Copage is still reeling over the discovery that he had nine brothers and three sisters and that his 89-year-old father, whom he had never met, was still living.

Rufus Copage also shocked to learn his father, whom he had never met, is still alive

Rufus Copage, right, is shown this summer with his father, Alfred Ollerhead. (Submitted by Rufus Copage)

Rufus Copage is still reeling over the discovery his granddaughter helped him make in early 2020.

Using DNA kits from the genealogy company Ancestry, they learned that Copage, of Sipekne'katik First Nation in Nova Scotia, had nine half-brothers and three half-sisters scattered across Canada.

He was also shocked to learn that his 89-year-old father, Alfred Ollerhead, whom he had never met and was the father of his newfound half-siblings, was still living.

"That was a real shocker, I mean that's a big family," said Copage, a 27-year veteran of the Sipekne'katik First Nation band council who served as chief from 2012 to 2016.

"I made contact with my youngest sister, Ella, and that's when I found out my father was still alive. I'm still reeling and trying to grasp it all."

Copage is shown here with half-sisters Doris Sacrey and Bernette Earle. (Submitted by Rufus Copage)

Copage was eager to meet his new family. He found out his father and two of his half-sisters were in Newfoundland, but as COVID-19 began to grip the region he had to wait for the right opportunity to visit. That came in the summer when the Atlantic bubble opened up and he made the trip to the town of Botwood, about an hour west of Gander.

"I went up there for about three days and actually stayed with one of my sisters and I actually got to meet my father," said Copage.

Ollerhead, who has Alzheimer's disease, was a member of the Royal Canadian Navy and served on board HMCS Cayuga.

The ship came to Halifax in the summer of 1952 for a refit and that's when Copage would have been conceived. Ollerhead didn't know about his son.

Copage was raised by his grandparents and has spent most of his life on the reserve in Indian Brook, N.S.

His newfound siblings live across Canada, including in the Northwest Territories, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario. One of his sisters passed away a few years ago.

Copage, right, met his father for the first time last summer during a visit to Newfoundland. (Submitted by Rufus Copage)

Not only was it a shock for Copage to discover his new siblings, it was also hard for them to believe.

"It really felt like someone was pulling my leg," said Copage's half-sister Doris Sacrey. "We didn't really need DNA, all we needed to see was the photos because there is such a family resemblance there it's just unbelievable."

Now the family is trying to plan a family reunion with their newfound son and half-brother in the mix.

"If COVID were to lift and people can travel again the entire family is looking to head to Newfoundland next January for my father's 90th birthday," said Copage. "Everybody has already been talking about it."