Darrell "Nik" Hamilton saw his father for the first time just shortly before his father died this past week in Manitoba, about 200 miles from Minot. Hamilton also met his two brothers, his sister and many other relatives.
Hamilton, 45, of Huntsville, Texas, is a survivor of the "Sixties Scoop," a practice that the Canadian government started in the 1960s and ended in the late 1980s, when unusually high numbers of native children were removed from their families and fostered or adopted out to non-native families, many in the United States.
This past weekend, Hamilton and his brothers, Nelson Chaske, of Elk Grove, Calif., and Rick Shannacappo, of Rolling River First Nation near Erickson, Man., and Lorie Head of Battleford, Sask., along with Hamilton's wife, Jody, and his siblings' children, were in Minot at the Holiday Inn-Riverside for a reunion.
Darrell “Nik” Hamilton, second from left, is shown with his brothers Rick Shannacappo, left, and Nelson Chaske, second from right, and his sister Lorie Head, far right. Head’s son, Jayden, is in front. Hamilton never met his brothers and sister until this past week. He was part of the Canadian government’s practice called the “Sixties Scoop” and was adopted by a family in the U.S.
Shannacappo said they decided to meet in Minot because it's a central place for them. "Our father (Nelson Bird) was supposed to be here but he passed away," he said, adding, "This was supposed to be our first initial meeting with our brother."
Hamilton, in an interview Saturday, explained what he referred to as the "Great '60s Scoop."
"Both the governments, United States and the Canadian government, kept it as a dirty secret," said Hamilton. "The Canadian government come forward and admitted the wrongs and they're connecting the families back together now with their children. Canada is the only one that's opened their adoption records. United States has sealed them. The American government denies it ever happened."
Hamilton, who was born July 25, 1969, said the "Sixties Scoop" was done "because they thought that it was better to take the aboriginal children and assimilate us into white society. It was supposed to better our lives."
He said his mother was single and children were taken from women who were single. Thousands of children were fostered, others were adopted, he said.
Hamilton was adopted by a couple in Des Moines, Iowa.
He said he didn't know the details of his adoption until he got older and discovered it.
"I came across it once I started figuring out why things weren't lining up things weren't making sense, why I was getting so many road blocks," he said.
Hamilton never met his father, Nelson Bird, until this past week shortly before his father's death in Minnedosa, Manitoba. "But I talked to him on the phone," he said.
"That's been in just the last five years," added Hamilton's wife, Jody.
The West Region Child and Family Services Rolling River office at Erickson, Manitoba, has been working to join the children and their families. That office made the travel arrangements for the family members to reunite, Hamilton said.
"They paid for our flight, they paid for our rooms, they gave us spending money for our expenses to cover all of it just so there was no reason why none of us could be together," he said. He said money was also provided for spouses or support people, including children who would be among the group.
But even before the family members actually met, Hamilton said they were connecting through social media.
The reunion in Minot had been arranged about a month ago for Hamilton, his siblings and their father.
However, last week Hamilton, who was at his home in Texas, was notified that his father was very ill. He immediately boarded a plane and flew to Minot. His siblings picked him up at the Minot International Airport and they drove to Minnedosa, Manitoba, about 200 miles northeast of Minot.
When they arrived at their father's bedside in the hospital during the early morning hours on Wednesday, Hamilton saw his father for just 30 minutes or so before his father died."He acknowledged to me that I was there," he said. Hamilton attended the traditional wake and funeral for his father, with his many newly met relatives.
After the funeral they came to Minot to spend more time together before returning to their homes.
"I'm just very thankful to the Band office for doing this," Hamilton said, referring to the West Region office at Erickson. He said he greatly appreciates all the work Stella Bone and Shanise Burgher of that office to bring he and his family members together again.
"My whole life I grew up and I felt like an apple. There was a part of my soul that always felt like there was a hole in it. Then going back to where my people are from, on the land, for the first time in my life my soul is feeling complete again. I don't have this hole in it. There's just no other way to describe it," he said.
"To go back where you're born and you meet everybody your whole family and knowing that they all were looking for you. My dad had talked about me so they all knew about me," Hamilton said.
Hamilton said he tried to find his family 25 years ago but he couldn't access the records. "There was nothing I could do then," he said. He said they were opened only a couple years ago.
Shannacappo said he and his wife had also looked for his brother and came to the states four or five years ago to try to find him.
His other brother and sister and their father also had been looking for Hamilton
Hamilton, his brothers and sister and their families left Minot Sunday to return to their homes. "We're going to be coming together again," he promised.
Hamilton said there's so many children who were removed from their families as he was during the "Sixties Scoop" and he hopes they will also be reunited like he has been with his family.
"It was pretty overwhelming just being around everybody who all said now this is your people," Hamilton said, adding, "Now I know where I came from."