Gisborne man reunited with lost Canadian family

ALL CAUGHT ON CAMERA: The documentary team filmed as the newly-found siblings reconnected, shared photos and even found their Uncle Bill, their mother’s brother, who filled them in on what happened the day the authorities came and in the years afterwards. From left are Gisborne man Brent Mitchell with his newly found brother Ron and sister Penny. Pictures supplied
Brent with his sister and brother.

THE EMOTIONAL and heart-warming reunion of a Gisborne man who finally found part of the family he was taken from as a baby has been captured on film as part of a Canadian documentary.

Gisborne couple Brent and Yolanda Mitchell were flown to Canada for 10 days to be the focus of a documentary about the "Sixties Scoop", the name given to the Canadian Government’s intervention in the 1960s when they removed thousands of indigenous babies and young children from their homes, families and culture and sent them to orphanages, adoption and foster care.

The “Sixties Scoop” was carried out to stop the spread of indigenous people and their culture.

Some of the children were adopted in Canada, some in the US and Europe, but only one little boy, Brent Mitchell, came to New Zealand.

Finally last month Brent was reunited with two of his siblings, a brother and sister, who were waiting to greet him and Yolanda at the international arrivals terminal.

It was a “knock you to the floor” moment, Brent said, and he knew exactly who they were as soon as he saw them.

Yolanda said she took a back seat and watched as the “overwhelming and emotional” reunion took place.

“I knew how much it meant to him. He’s been searching and searching and because I’ve witnessed that, it was amazing to watch.”

Yolanda said the siblings all shared the same sense of humour, and similar traits, including their love of certain foods.

The reunion was captured on camera by CBC news and the documentary team who paid for the Gisborne couple’s trip.

The Canadian-based documentary team filmed as Brent and his newly-found siblings met, got to know each other, shared photos and went back to their family land in the Canadian province of Manitoba, where the foundations of the log cabin they had all been born in still remained.

“It was hard, there was sadness but happiness to be where we had come from,” Brent said.

Ojibwa tribe

They also met the chief of the Ojibwa tribe they descended from.

Documentary producer Merle Robillard said it was a great honour to be with Brent and Yolanda on their journey to reconnect with his siblings, home and culture in Manitoba.

“During the week we spent together, we witnessed the connection growing with Brent and his sister, Penny, and brother, Ron, as well as an incredible moment when they visited their mother’s childhood home where Brent expressed his anger towards the government of Canada who took him away from his home.

“It all culminated on our final full day in Manitoba while visiting Sagkeeng First Nation, we witnessed a Sundance Ceremony; a sacred ceremony of sacrifice and devotion where the participants fasted and danced for four days.

“Just before we were to leave, Brent, Yolanda and Penny were invited to the sacred tree in the centre of the ceremonial arbour to be welcomed back into the tribe.”

Mr Robillard said it was a very powerful moment.

“Interviewing Brent after, there was a moment when all his anger and frustration towards the government of Canada was lifted, he was unburdened by the fact that for him, at that moment, it really didn’t matter any more. He was home, his mother was happy and it was something no one could take from him.”

Brent confirmed the overwhelming connection he felt to his mother who conveyed to him, “It’s OK, you’re home now”.

“I just felt this thing going right through me, it’s hard to describe but I just had this feeling from Mum that she was happy now that we were home.”

The anger vanished

In that moment, Brent said the anger he had carried for years vanished.

An added bonus was finding Uncle Bill, their mother’s brother, who answered questions and fill them in on what happened when they were younger.

It was hard stuff to hear, Brent said.

Uncle Bill told them he remembered the day the authorities came, and that after her children were taken their mother was a broken woman.

“She never got over it and died in 1975,” Brent said.

Government documents Brent obtained years ago in New Zealand painted his mother badly. But Brent said he always knew this was only to justify the removal of her children.

Their Uncle Bill said she had been an amazing mother, who was “happy go-lucky” and got on with everyone.

Brent’s brother Ron came from Swan Lake in Canada, a town of about 200. People in town said the reunion of the family accompanied by a film crew was the greatest thing to happen in Swan Lake in 100 years. They even got to try the town’s Moonshine.

The number one thing Brent wants is the family land back. It too was taken during the Sixties Scoop. Even if it is the quarter acre section where the family’s foundations of their home still stand, he wants that for his family and his children.

He also wants automatic citizenship for his children.

Those things are “not negotiable,” he said.

There are still four more siblings to track down and the search is continuing. Two brothers still live in Canada, and a brother and sister live in Minnesota. They were the only two who were adopted out together so Brent is pleased that at least part of his family stayed together.

• The documentary will be finished in Canada over the next few months, with New Zealand distribution dates still to be confirmed.



THE EMOTIONAL and heart-warming reunion of a Gisborne man who finally found part of the family he was taken from as a baby has been captured on film as part of a Canadian documentary.

Gisborne couple Brent and Yolanda Mitchell were flown to Canada for 10 days to be the focus of a documentary about the "Sixties Scoop", the name given to the Canadian Government’s intervention in the 1960s when they removed thousands of indigenous babies and young children from their homes, families and culture and sent them to orphanages, adoption and foster care.

The “Sixties Scoop” was carried out to stop the spread of indigenous people and their culture.

Some of the children were adopted in Canada, some in the US and Europe, but only one little boy, Brent Mitchell, came to New Zealand.

Finally last month Brent was reunited with two of his siblings, a brother and sister, who were waiting to greet him and Yolanda at the international arrivals terminal.

It was a “knock you to the floor” moment, Brent said, and he knew exactly who they were as soon as he saw them.

Yolanda said she took a back seat and watched as the “overwhelming and emotional” reunion took place.

“I knew how much it meant to him. He’s been searching and searching and because I’ve witnessed that, it was amazing to watch.”

Yolanda said the siblings all shared the same sense of humour, and similar traits, including their love of certain foods.

The reunion was captured on camera by CBC news and the documentary team who paid for the Gisborne couple’s trip.

The Canadian-based documentary team filmed as Brent and his newly-found siblings met, got to know each other, shared photos and went back to their family land in the Canadian province of Manitoba, where the foundations of the log cabin they had all been born in still remained.

“It was hard, there was sadness but happiness to be where we had come from,” Brent said.

Ojibwa tribe

They also met the chief of the Ojibwa tribe they descended from.

Documentary producer Merle Robillard said it was a great honour to be with Brent and Yolanda on their journey to reconnect with his siblings, home and culture in Manitoba.

“During the week we spent together, we witnessed the connection growing with Brent and his sister, Penny, and brother, Ron, as well as an incredible moment when they visited their mother’s childhood home where Brent expressed his anger towards the government of Canada who took him away from his home.

“It all culminated on our final full day in Manitoba while visiting Sagkeeng First Nation, we witnessed a Sundance Ceremony; a sacred ceremony of sacrifice and devotion where the participants fasted and danced for four days.

“Just before we were to leave, Brent, Yolanda and Penny were invited to the sacred tree in the centre of the ceremonial arbour to be welcomed back into the tribe.”

Mr Robillard said it was a very powerful moment.

“Interviewing Brent after, there was a moment when all his anger and frustration towards the government of Canada was lifted, he was unburdened by the fact that for him, at that moment, it really didn’t matter any more. He was home, his mother was happy and it was something no one could take from him.”

Brent confirmed the overwhelming connection he felt to his mother who conveyed to him, “It’s OK, you’re home now”.

“I just felt this thing going right through me, it’s hard to describe but I just had this feeling from Mum that she was happy now that we were home.”

The anger vanished

In that moment, Brent said the anger he had carried for years vanished.

An added bonus was finding Uncle Bill, their mother’s brother, who answered questions and fill them in on what happened when they were younger.

It was hard stuff to hear, Brent said.

Uncle Bill told them he remembered the day the authorities came, and that after her children were taken their mother was a broken woman.

“She never got over it and died in 1975,” Brent said.

Government documents Brent obtained years ago in New Zealand painted his mother badly. But Brent said he always knew this was only to justify the removal of her children.

Their Uncle Bill said she had been an amazing mother, who was “happy go-lucky” and got on with everyone.

Brent’s brother Ron came from Swan Lake in Canada, a town of about 200. People in town said the reunion of the family accompanied by a film crew was the greatest thing to happen in Swan Lake in 100 years. They even got to try the town’s Moonshine.

The number one thing Brent wants is the family land back. It too was taken during the Sixties Scoop. Even if it is the quarter acre section where the family’s foundations of their home still stand, he wants that for his family and his children.

He also wants automatic citizenship for his children.

Those things are “not negotiable,” he said.

There are still four more siblings to track down and the search is continuing. Two brothers still live in Canada, and a brother and sister live in Minnesota. They were the only two who were adopted out together so Brent is pleased that at least part of his family stayed together.

• The documentary will be finished in Canada over the next few months, with New Zealand distribution dates still to be confirmed.



What was the '60s Scoop'?

Patrick Johnson, a researcher for the Canadian Council on Social Development, coined the term “Sixties Scoop” in a 1983 report that explored the mass apprehension of Aboriginal children from their homes and reserves and into Canadian and American child welfare systems during the 1960s.

Johnson took the phrase from the comments of a provincial child-protection worker who noted that social workers “would literally scoop children from reserves on the slightest pretext.”

This “scooping” dramatically accelerated the over-representation of Aboriginal children in welfare systems. The children were removed with no consultation with the child’s family or band and subsequently placed in non-Aboriginal adoptive and foster homes.

These non-Aboriginal families were never given any information from the government on the child’s Aboriginal heritage, their legal Indian status, or the various benefits the child was entitled to receive.

Siblings were also usually sent in radically different directions. The children were fundamentally denied a sense of wellbeing as they lost contact with their families, lost contact with their culture, lost their traditional language, and lost any sense of identity.

This traumatic loss deeply affected the childrens’ ability to lead a healthy and fulfilling life. The traumatic loss of Aboriginal identity during the Sixties Scoop resulted in countless cases of suicide, unemployment, substance abuse, and mental disorders.

Canadian law at the time clearly accepted that Canada’s care and welfare of its Aboriginal peoples was a “political trust of the highest obligation”.

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