'I'm home': Brothers separated by Sixties Scoop reunite after 50 years apart
Nick Helliwell and Anthony Stonechild were separated when they were 2 and 4 respectively
It's a reunion 50 years in the making.
Nick Helliwell was two years old when he and his four-year-old brother Anthony Stonechild were separated during the Sixties Scoop; when tens of thousands of First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were taken from their families and put in foster care or adopted, mostly into white families.
On Tuesday, they saw each other for the first time in 50 years at the Regina International Airport.
Helliwell watched in anticipation surrounded by his wife, older brother Henry Blair Pascal and grandchildren as people poured off the plane. Then, catching sight of Stonechild, he said quietly, "That's him."
The three brothers embraced at the bottom of the stairs.
"I recognized him immediately as I saw him come down the walkway. I just knew that was him," Helliwell said.
Stonechild explained: "It's like a spirit. It's still there."
Stonechild and Helliwell connected over Facebook through another of their brothers, who lives in Prince Albert, Sask. They both described being "overwhelmed" because their sense of family has been skewed by their childhood experience of separation and the stripping of their identity.
Stonechild, who now lives in Vancouver, said his life has been lonely.
"The feelings of family and all that become very, very complicated and ... polluted by prejudices that are imposed upon me," he said.
"But honestly, the only thing I remember when I think back on my family is an incredible sense of love that I never felt in any of the families that I was placed in."
Watch the brothers' reunion here:
Both Stonechild and Helliwell were in multiple homes as small children. Stonechild said he was moved every three months for a time.
"I call it the kaleidoscope of life. Every three months, I would close my eyes, open them and everything is different," Stonechild said.
"The fact that we have been able to create families of our own and develop long-term connections in our lives is a little bit of a miracle because our childhoods were constant disruption," Stonechild said.
Helliwell said he was in 15 different homes before he turned six.
"That experience completely disconnected me from any sense of family or home," he said.
"Reconnecting with family now becomes a really, really scary prospect for me because I realize that very fundamental parts of my being have been damaged."
The brothers have family in Peepeekisis First Nation, located about 90 kilometres northeast of Regina, where they plan to visit during the week Stonechild is in the area. They also want to travel to Prince Albert to visit their other brother.
Helliwell said the realization he and his brothers have lost so much time hit hard.
"There's not enough time ahead of us to make up. That's a sense of loss that I feel," he said.
Stonechild said he has spent much of his life feeling out of place, having felt shame imposed on him for being Indigenous.
All along there were people out there who loved him, but he just didn't know how to reach them, he said.
"This is the first time I've walked into a world that I really feel that I belong back in," Stonechild said.
Helliwell turned to his brother and said, "Your first words to me were 'I'm home' … and now we have to figure out what that means."