The siblings of a Métis man who has been missing for decades — ever since he was apprehended as a child during the Sixties Scoop — want to know why the Manitoba government keeps sending him a verification of address request, mailed to the very home the province seized him from more than 45 years ago.
“All these years later, even when my parents are deceased, his [health] card is still coming to the mail,” said Sandra Myers. “Somebody knows something.”
Her brother, Alex James Sutherland, was just five years old when child welfare officials seized him, along with his six siblings, from their Camperville, Man., home in 1976.
It was part of the notoriously devastating Sixties Scoop — which saw thousands of Indigenous children forcibly removed from their homes and placed with non-Indigenous families as far away as the U.S. and Europe, during a period stretching from 1951 to 1991.
Alex and his siblings, including Myers, were seized under false pretences, they say. Child welfare officials claimed their father drank too much and the children were abused.
“I’m kind of shocked,” Myers said. “I don’t remember no abuse.”
Their mother, meanwhile, thought the apprehensions were temporary and agreed to sign a document allowing child welfare officials to vaccinate the children.
Instead, she signed away her rights as a parent.
“My mom couldn’t read or write, and they gave her a paper and pen,” said Sutherland’s sister, Marj McGillivray. “She didn’t even know she was signing us away.”
A curious clue
Three of the siblings, including Myers, were adopted in Louisiana. McGillivray remained in Manitoba, bounced between foster homes until she was reunited with her parents as a teen.
Alex Sutherland, however, was never heard from again.
“I hear from the other ones, but this one, he’s just gone,” McGillivray says.
In 2016, the siblings went public with their search, sharing their story with CBC.
Through the years, as the story circulated, so did the tips. A couple of childhood friends reached out with memories of going to school with Alex in Mafeking, Man.
The siblings later heard rumours that Alex was in Thompson, Man. Another time, they heard he might be in Alberta. Another time, Ontario.
Then, a few years ago, a curious clue arrived in their parents’ post office box.
The province began sending out health card registration verifications addressed to Alex James Sutherland — sent to his childhood home in Camperville.
As of 2023, they’re still coming.
“That’s why my mom and dad thought he was still alive and in Manitoba,” said McGillivray.
Now, the family wants to know why a provincial department is sending mail to Sutherland’s childhood home — as if it was, as far as the province is concerned, his last known address.
‘I’m not giving up hope’
In a written statement, a provincial spokesperson said if a person hasn’t used their Manitoba Health card in the past 12 months, the province sends a verification notice to the last address it has on file, “to ensure their address is still current and there are no new changes to their health card,” the spokesperson said.
If the notice comes back marked “return to sender,” the health card is suspended, according to the spokesperson.
They would not elaborate on whether they would send out a verification for a health card that had been inactive for more than 12 months.
“We’re getting into hypotheticals here, which we can’t comment on,” the emailed statement said.
The Manitoba Métis Federation, meanwhile, also has questions about Sutherland, and has offered to help the family find the answers.
The federation is “happy to work with the family to get the bottom of this,” said northwest region vice-president Frances Chartrand in a written statement.
“We are always saddened when we learn of Sixties Scoop survivors in our region who have still not found their way home.”
The Métis Federation, through its Sixties Scoop department, can provide the family with “wraparound programs and services … tailored to the needs of individual survivors,” said Chartrand.
Myers said she’d be grateful for the federation’s support.
“If anything could help to find him, I’ll be glad,” she said.
“I never stopped searching for him. I’m not giving up hope. I know he’s out there.”
She also had a message for her brother.
“I’m reaching out to you and if you can hear this, look me up on Facebook,” Myers says. “And know that I’m not giving up until I find you or know where you’re at.”