A Port Coquitlam, B.C., couple is fighting to get three young foster children returned after the children were taken by the Squamish First Nation in North Vancouver and placed with another foster family.
Delicia and Eugene Holman fostered the children — a girl, aged three, and two boys, aged four and six — from close to birth, until last month, when the Squamish band took custody of them.
"I thought it was going to be forever," said Delicia Holman, who began fostering children with her husband in 2000.
"It's basically like losing your child. We've had them all their lives. It's very, very emotional for us," said her husband.
'A resurgence of our culture'
The children were taken by the Squamish nation's child welfare arm, the Ayas Men Men Child and Family Services, pursuant to its guardianship powers.
The province has given either partial or full control of aboriginal children in foster care to different First Nations. The Squamish First Nation has partial control over guardianship of Squamish children in foster care. It has the authority to approve foster homes and provide guardianship services, but not to investigate cases of child abuse or neglect, or to intervene in those cases.
The children were not returned to the Holmans following what the Holmans say was only supposed to be a sleepover on band territory, to help prepare them for an eventual return to the Squamish Nation.
Chief Ian Campbell says fostering First Nations children is seen as a collaborative process.
"Having the children return to the community is always our ultimate goal, is having them maintain that connection."
Campbell said the children are not strangers to the First Nations community.
"That's part of the reason we want to maintain connection, so that the children aren't isolated to only know their immediate care providers," said Campbell.
"We are trying to have a resurgence of our culture, in light of the impacts of colonialism in our territories here.
"It’s my hope that all parties will be able to come together to resolve this matter again with the best interests of the children in mind."
Financial and abuse allegations
But the Holmans allege the move is really all about money.
While they got paid $1,800 per month by the province to look after each youngster, the band also gets an undisclosed amount, as long as the children remain within band jurisdiction.
But the Holmans moved away from North Vancouver, in which one of the Squamish First Nation’s reserves is located, to Port Coquitlam, which is 25 kilometres away, for financial reasons.
They say their new home is on the edge of the boundary where the Ayas Men Men has jurisdiction over guardianship services. They believe the province is in a position to take sole guardianship of the children and cut the band's payment.
"I would say it's 100 per cent about money," said Eugene Holman.
"There's no other reason behind it — there's nothing, there's nothing," added his wife.
In a statement to CBC News, a representative of the Ministry of Children and Family Development wrote that in situations where a child’s foster parent placement is changed, “factors such as geography and financial compensation/costs – alone – would never be the deciding factors in altering a placement.”
The Holmans suspected trouble last November after the Ayas Men Men started making a series of demands, first telling them they couldn't have more than two pets when their cat had kittens.
They say the organization asked them to move back to the North Shore, and even offered to pay part of the Holmans rent if they did. The Holmans say when they reached out to the band for further details, the group fell silent.
The Band also demanded a complete personal financial statement, which the Holmans refused to provide.
Ayas Men Men also stated it was launching an investigation into abuse and neglect, saying the oldest boy claimed he'd been hit by the Holmans' own 23-year-old daughter, Nicole.
The Holmans' daughter denies that accusation vehemently.
"To have someone think that maybe I've abused a kid, its heartbreaking," she said."I have never hit them. I have never abused these kids... They're just part of my family. I would never hurt them."
'A Kafka-esque nightmare'
The case is raising serious questions about where the rights of First Nations begin and where they end for foster parents.
Lawyer Marnie Dunnaway is lawyer practising family law who has dealt with numerous custody cases involving the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
She says when an investigation "starts with a series of what appear to be petty complaints and then its followed by an abuse investigation, you really have to question the good faith of that investigation.”
"My heart does go out to foster parents in that situation, but more to the children because they are the lost ones," she added.
"It's a major injustice that foster parents are treated so radically differently from normal, ordinary parents... It's a Kafka-esque nightmare because the kids are removed, and that's the end of that," she said.
Dunnaway said moving the children in this way is harmful, because they are losing what they regard as a mother and father.
"It seems to me it's brutal to take kids away from foster parents without any recourse or redress because somebody changed their mind about something.
"There is a real lack of understanding of just how incredibly devastating it is to children to terminate parental relationships," said Dunnaway.
"The worst thing about it is the lack of recourse. There's no appeal. There's nothing you can do."
The three children have been placed with a non-native foster family in North Vancouver. They are living with three cousins in that home.
The Holmans say none of this was in the best interests of the children, who had bonded with them, and they will fight to get them back.
"We are their parents and we are not going to give up on them," said Eugene Holman.
His sentiments are echoed by his wife.
"I love them and I will do everything in my power to get them back, that's the bottom line of it."