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Donald Fales had been waiting a lifetime to meet his birth parents after he was taken from them as a baby
Fales was among thousands of Indigenous children, who between the 1960s and 1980s, faced mass removal from their families into Canada’s child welfare system in what became known as the 'Sixties Scoop.'
A few years ago, a close acquaintance suggested Fales consider applying for the Sixties Scoop Settlement, which provided compensation for people who were separated by adoption from their biological parents, often done without the consent of their families or bands.
“Once I found out that I was part of that, it kind of flipped everything upside down that I knew about my adoption and just started moving forward with it all,” he says.
Fales always knew something was missing in his life.
Since he was 16 years old, he has wondered who his biological parents were. At 50, he finally came face-to-face with his mother in a powerful reunion.
“It was extremely emotional,” he says thinking back to the day. “I spent all my lifetime pretty much looking for these answers and waiting."
At just three months old, Fales was taken from his parents and put into foster care.
“I never had that experience of watching your parents drive away or dropping you off and never coming back. I don’t remember any of that part of it,” he says. “So I’m lucky in that way."
Fales was adopted in Prince Rupert at about one year old and shortly after moved to Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. Legally, his adoptive mother had to go through the Supreme Court of Canada when he was six years old and he says this is how he uncovered his birth name.
“I knew I was from Kitkatla (Gitxaala Nation) because my mother registered me through Indian status at the time of birth,” Fales said.
He had a starting point with his band and began connecting the dots by speaking to people and trying to make further family connections. Fales chatted with people through Facebook groups, trying to find leads. Ultimately, he decided to take a DNA test through Ancestry DNA which confirmed his relatives.
His mother was from the Kitkatla Band, a small village located 45 kilometres southwest of Prince Rupert that can only be accessed by float plane or boat. His father was from the Haisla Band located in Kitimat.
Fales soon learned that at birth his given name had been Donald Albert Stewart — his middle and last names handed to him from his grandfather and father, respectively.
An emotional reunion with his mother
On New Year’s Day, Fales received the phone number of a woman who was possibly his mother.
"I called her and just explained the story and the names that I had,” he says. “It was just pretty surreal.”
Fales remembers the woman responding with “Oh my god. You’re my son” — words he had spent most of his adult life searching and waiting to hear.
“After I got off the phone with her. I just crumbled. I broke down,” he says.
The pair kept chatting on the phone over the following days, sharing stories and planning a day to meet in person in February 2023.
An emotional video he filmed captures their heart-wrenching reunion. Fales shared the video on social media, which has since been viewed more than 2.2 million times.
“It was extremely emotional and just everything seems so surreal,” he recalls. “You wait a lifetime to make these connections and when you do make them, it doesn't seem real.”
When his mother opened her arms to hug him, she broke down.
“I always wondered what happened to you my son,” he says. “It broke my heart to hear her say those words.”
Fales has four biological brothers and one sister. The mother, who lost all of her children during the Sixties Scoop period, has now reconnected with all of them, according to Fales.
Unfortunately, Fales's father died before the two got to be reunited.
“It's just extremely emotional, extremely powerful, and a lifetime of emotions just kind of flooding out of you,” he says.
Healing after all these years
Fales has spent three years on a healing journey as a way to cope with learning that he was taken from his biological parents.
“It took a little while to find a proper way to speak about it and deal with my feelings of knowing that I was taken from my family and not giving up,” he says.
His journey of finding his biological parents has been long, but he says it’s been worth every step. He now lives in Edmonton, Alta., and is married with two children.
"I can see all the likenesses and see where some of the looks and everything comes from, so it's been pretty amazing,” he says.
Both of his children have encouraged him to reconnect with his biological mother and other family members.
“They’ve always been pretty receptive with pushing me into looking a little bit more and being supportive of me,” he says.
Fales has since travelled to meet his biological father’s family in Haisla and across Northern B.C. He travelled to where his father is buried in Kitimat, B.C., and says he has spent time learning about his culture.
“It was totally amazing to be welcomed in by everybody and learn about all the different cultures, different songs, dances. It was a huge part that just kind of filled my heart with everything that I was looking for,” Fales says.
He hopes that other people will hear his story and consider reaching out to find out about their own cultures.
“Don’t give up,” he says. “If it’s not finding biological parents, just connect with your culture.”
He added that finding his parent's First Nation cultures have answered many questions.
“It's been a blessing to just have the reception that I've had to both my mother's side on my father's side of their communities, and as well as the support that I've got from my adoptive parents as well,” he says.