LARIMORE, N.D. (KXNET) — After decades of feeling like something was missing, one Larimore man finally feels he’s found what he was seeking.

Even as early as childhood, Dennis Wentz felt that something wasn’t quite right. He was raised by his biological mother, of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa tribe, and the man he knew as his father, who is of German heritage. Growing up, Wentz says there was a strong German influence in the household.

“I love them dearly,” said Wentz. “They are family to me. But something inside of me just wouldn’t let that go.”

That something he couldn’t let go is what Wentz describes as a hole. As he grew older, he learned that his biological father was likely someone other than the man who raised him.

“When I was about 12 years old, I learned it was a possibility that my father was a man named Fats Charette,” said Wentz.

As an adult, Wentz completed an Ancestry DNA test and found out his hunch was correct.

“You get your ethnicity and there’s no German in you. That type of thing,” he said. “But I did see the name Charette and I knew that from my childhood. So I started doing my own research.”

His father, Ferdinand Duane Charette, also known as Fats, died in the 1980s. But Wentz embarked on a journey of finding his siblings and other relatives.

“I found his obituary. And then, of course, survivors, his children. I’d go through Facebook looking for these names,” said Wentz.

Having learned the truth about his heritage, Wentz set out to get his birth certificate changed to reflect his biological father. But Wentz says he learned he would need a court order to have the certificate changed.

So he petitioned a North Dakota district court. However, his efforts were denied. The judge’s order states “a man is presumed to be the father of a child if he and the mother of the child are married to each other and the child is born during the marriage. A proceeding brought by a presumed father, the mother, or another individual to adjudicate the parentage of a child having a presumed father must be commenced not later than two years after the birth of the child.”

“For me to get my heritage back, for me to get back to the people I belong with legally, this is something that needs to be changed,” said Wentz.

Uncertain about what to do next, Wentz sought out the advice of Sandy White Hawk, who is the president of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition.

In an email to KX News, White Hawk wrote, “What happened in Mr. Wentz’s case is very common among Native American adoptees. Adoption records are often altered some way to make it easier for an adoption to take place,” said White Hawk.

Since his biological father is from the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa tribe, Wentz turned to the tribal court. After submitting documentation, including his and a half-brother’s DNA test results, a hearing was scheduled.

In August of this year, The Turtle Mountain Tribal Court ruled that Ferdinand Charette is the father of Wentz and that Wentz is eligible for tribal membership.

“[I] finally [had] been validated for what I had been fighting for the last two years,” said Wentz.

Wentz then went back to the North Dakota Division of Vital Records with the tribal court’s decision and was finally able to have his birth certificate updated to reflect his biological father, Ferdinand Charette.

“It means, for lack of a better word, what was stolen from me has been returned,” said Wentz.

White Hawk told KX News via email, “The real story is Mr. Wentz should not have had to do this. It’s a violation of his rights to his own birth information,” said White Hawk.

Wentz says he knows there are others like him struggling to have their identity recognized- people he wants to help by sharing his own experience.

“When I met my aunt Ramona, she asked me about how I feel. And I told her, I’m home,” said Wentz.

Though he never knew his biological father, Wentz is now working to get to know his added family which has been able to fill the hole he’d felt for so long.