Nation/World

'Forty years gone': Two Canadian friends, born days apart in 1975, were likely switched at birth

David Tait Jr. sat before reporters late last week, tears in his eyes.

"I want answers," he said. "So bad."

Tait was born in 1975, in Norway House Indian Hospital in Manitoba, Canada. He became life-long friends with Leon Swanson, who had been born in the same hospital just three days earlier, the Associated Press reported.

But four decades later, DNA testing now suggests David Tait Jr. and Leon Swanson, 41-year-old friends and members of the same indigenous community, appear to have been switched at birth.

Results show that Swanson's mother, Charlotte, was the biological parent of the Tait Jr., while additional testing of Swanson and the Tait family was pending, said Eric Robinson, Manitoba's former aboriginal affairs minister.

"It's a regrettable situation," Robinson said at the news conference. "I understand that."

"Forty years gone, I don't know," Tait said. "Just distraught, confused, angry."

"I don't know what to say," said a tearful Swanson. "I don't know what to say. I don't know what to say."

[I'm white. My kids are Native. It matters.]

Tait told CTV News that he and Swanson were already close, saying that they were "pretty much family from the beginning I guess (and) we just didn't know it until now."

That sentiment was echoed by his father, David Tait Sr., who told the National Post that he had noticed that his child eventually started to "look different," but, at the time, held a mindset of: "But who am I to say that he's not mine?"

"I have an extra son, and Charlotte has an extra son, so hopefully everything will work out that way," he said.

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott on Friday released a statement to the CBC, saying an "independent third party" would go through hospital records to try to figure out what happened.

"The results of this review will be made public," the statement said. "Cases like this are an unfortunate reminder to Canadians of how urgent the need is to provide all Indigenous people with high-quality health care. The government of Canada remains deeply committed to renewing a nation-to-nation relationship with all Indigenous peoples. I offer my sympathy to the families in this difficult time."

[New federal rule aims to help Native children remain in tribal communities]

The Post's Peter Holley has previously covered tensions and issues surrounding indigenous Canadians, writing:

"Among the most sensitive areas of contention between indigenous Canadians and their government has been the forced separation of more than 150,000 aboriginal children from their families throughout the 19th and 20th centuries – a policy many have labeled 'cultural genocide.'

"Pledging to work with indigenous communities towards reconciliation, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last year accepted the results of a six-year investigation into abuses that occurred within the government's residential schools for indigenous children."

Robinson, the former Manitoba aboriginal affairs minister, called the switch a criminal issue.

"I can't describe this matter as anything less than criminal," he said at the press conference. "We can live with one mistake, but two mistakes of a similar nature is not acceptable, so we can't simply slough it off as being a mistake, indeed it was a criminal activity in my view."

This is the second switched-at-birth case involving the Norway House Indian Hospital in recent months.

Late last year, DNA testing confirmed that two other men, who were also born in 1975, had been switched, according to the CBC. Those men, Luke Monias and Norman Barkman, spoke at a similar news conference at the time.

"It's hard; I just want to know what happened," Barkman told reporters in November.

"I would like some answers for me and my family," Monias said. "The good is that now I know the truth."

Here's the National Post, with details of the hospital's current procedures: "The Norway House hospital no longer does elective deliveries and conducts emergency births about once every two months. Babies born there today are immediately given identification wristbands as is modern practice."

"The rest of us can only imagine what these two innocent families are going to have to experience in the foreseeable future," said Robinson, the former aboriginal affairs minister. "This is not an acceptable situation for the families and for the communities who have had to deal with these consequences. We now have two families from two different communities who would like answers. And at the very least, they deserve to understand how such a thing could happen two times."

At Friday's news conference, Robinson noted that there had always been gossip and rumors about Tait and Swanson in the community – this guy looks more like his friend's family, that kind of chatter. He pointed out that the switch didn't just impact the two men: There were parents involved, and siblings.

"It's going to be very difficult," Robinson said. "And it's going to be challenging. There's going to be ups and downs. And there's going to be a lot of hurt and pain as the story unfolds more.

"What happened here is lives were stolen. You can't describe it as anything less than that."

Sponsored