November 14, 2015 - 6:00 AM
WINNIPEG - Two men from a remote Manitoba First Nation received "shocking and unbelievable" news this week that they were switched at birth 40 years ago and were raised by each other's families.
Luke Monias and Norman Barkman said Friday they want an investigation into what caused the mix-up at a federally run hospital in Norway House in June 1975.
"I just want to know what happened 40 years ago. It's hard," Barkman said Friday between long pauses, his voice breaking. "I just want to know what happened."
"I would like some answers for me and my family," Monias said.
Provincial Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson held a news conference in Winnipeg to explain that DNA tests show the men were given to the wrong families after their mothers gave birth.
The two were born on the same day to families from Garden Hill, a fly-in community 400 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.
Growing up, they were often told they looked more like the other boy's family, Monias said.
"I thought it was like a joke or rumours. I didn't take it seriously until recently."
Last summer, needing to know once and for all who his actual parents were, Monias contacted Robinson for help. It was agreed that DNA tests would be done. The "shocking and unbelievable" results came back earlier this week, said Robinson, who represents the area in the legislature.
He said that the mix-up has affected many people in Garden Hill. Parents, siblings, children and other relatives are now learning that the person they thought was related to them is, in fact, not.
"The mental, physical and spiritual well-being of both men has been deeply affected by the loss of their proper identity," Robinson said. "The effects on their immediate and extended families is just as serious. It's also had a huge effect on the community itself."
He said Barkman and Monias want the federal government to initiate an immediate investigation into the events surrounding this "grievous error, and I support them."
"The lives of Luke, Norman and the families have been irreversibly torn apart by this error, an error that cannot be simply overturned at this late time."
An emailed statement from federal Health Minister Jane Philpott said she was very concerned to learn about the switch.
"I have asked my department officials to look into the matter immediately and to reach out to the families involved," she said.
"I can assure Canadians that Health Canada will look into the concerns that have been raised by Mr. Barkman and Mr. Monias."
Answers won't come soon enough for at least two people: the biological father of Monias is deceased as is Barkman's biological mother.
Monias said he and Barkman remain good friends.
"He's like my brother. He's still my brother, no matter what."
News from © The Canadian Press, 2015