Winnipeg family reunites after kids taken in Sixties Scoop

A family that was ripped apart more than 40 years ago reunited in Winnipeg for the first time. The Indigenous family was separated by what's known as the Sixties Scoop.

'I'm happy now, finally,' says woman after seeing siblings, mother again

Survivors of 60s Scoop reunite after decades apart

6 years ago
Duration 2:20
A family ripped apart by the Sixties Scoop more than 40 years ago was reunited for the first time in Winnipeg on Friday afternoon.

A family ripped apart by the Sixties Scoop more than 40 years ago was reunited for the first time in Winnipeg on Friday afternoon.

Lena Woodhouse had six of her children taken from their Winnipeg home after she went out one afternoon in the early 1970s.

Lorna Piepers, 52, was one of the children apprehended and was relocated to Edmonton. She wept as she recalled the day that she was taken from her family.

"A social worker came in one day, went through our cupboards, grabbed a few things, wrapped three of us all in his arm and took us away," said Piepers.

During the Sixties Scoop, child welfare services took thousands of Indigenous children from their homes and placed them with non-Indigenous families across Canada and the U.S.

The family welcomes their mother, Lena Woodhouse, to the family reunion. (CBC)
While waiting for her siblings to arrive at the reunion, Peipers talked about her experiences moving to multiple foster homes and being mistreated.

"Beatings, starvings, abuse, name calling, told that you're worth nothing, you're dirty," she remembered.

One by one, as each family member arrived, they greeted each other with hugs, tears, and smiles.

Two of the seven siblings were not able to attend the reunion — one of the brother's whereabouts is still unknown.

Diane Friesen, 50, was relocated to Langley B.C., and is the youngest of the family. She was the last of the siblings to arrive at the reunion.

As Friesen walked into the home, the family gathered in a circle to share a group hug and some of their memories with each other.

"It's hard to come up with words to describe what it feels like, it's very emotional, it's wonderful," she said.

Woodhouse's granddaughter, Cindy Woodhouse-Nepinak, arranged for Woodhouse and five of her children to reunite at Woodhouse-Nepinak's Winnipeg home ahead of a family wedding on Saturday.

"We can never get those years back," she said. "I hope my kids and their kids just know each other as cousins, and nothing else. As the generations go, I hope we can settle the past."

In the same room, finally

When they were first apprehended, the girls in the family stayed together but not long after they were separated and moved to different provinces.

Alex Woodhouse grew up in Thompson, Manitoba. He is pictured waiting for his siblings to arrive at the family reunion. (CBC)
Alex Woodhouse, 58, was raised in Thompson Manitoba, wasn't sure what to expect.  

"I didn't think we would get together, we have our own lives, family commitments, it's a nice happy surprise," he said.

It was the first time that the Woodhouse family was able to have their family in the same room since they were apprehended four decades ago.

With the family having been separated for so long, they still have many questions for each other.

Woodhouse-Nepinak wants to make sure that they are comfortable first, and hopes they can find more answers as they get to know one another.

She wants her family to know the stereotypes they were told growing up weren't true.

"See that we're not what all these people told you .... We're a family and we're normal people," Woodhouse-Nepinak said.

She hopes the weekend reunion will strengthen their bonds as a family, and the family has a chance to heal.

Lena Woodhouse, the mother of the children apprehended, was the last of the family members to arrive at the reunion. She was unsure of how she would feel seeing them together.

"[it's been a] long time since I saw them, and I remember when they were small," Woodhouse said.

As they posed for a family picture, Lena Woodhouse told everyone in the room how she loved that they were able to be together again.

Despite the struggles her children faced not having a family growing up, the reunion gives her daughter Piepers hope.

Holding back her tears she said, "I'm happy now, finally."


Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1