Two aboriginal teenage girls have won the right to stay with their non-aboriginal foster parents.
The Sto:lo First National has dropped its fight to repatriate the girls after a two-day court hearing in Vancouver.
As the girls left the B.C. Supreme Court, one shouted "Group hug," and threw her arms around her half-sister and foster mother. The 14-year-old and the 17-year-old can't be named to protect their identify. They've lived with their foster parents for 13 years.
For the past year they have begged officials to let them stay there despite the Sto:lo desire to repatriate them.
"I feel really happy today," said one sister, "that we've come to a decision. I'm happy to stay with my parents and really happy. They finally came to a conclusion to let us stay."
Under the repatriation plan the Xyolhemeylh Child and Family Services of the Sto:lo would have moved the sisters to another non-native family closer to the reserve.
Marnie Dunaway, the lawyer who acted for the sisters, says it is a delicate situation trying to balance the needs of First Nations with the interests of the children.
Dunaway says no matter what the decision, this kind of court battle is traumatic for those involved, especially the children.
"I can't imagine one of my children being told 'Oh, by the way somebody has decided for bureaucratic or economic or political or cultural reasons, someone has decided you're going to live somewhere else now. See you later.'"
Dunaway says the teens involved in this case had no choice but to go to court because the B.C. Child Advocacy Office, which used to look after such matters, doesn't exist any more. It was cut by the provincial government.
There are a lot of hurt feelings from this fight.
The eldest girl began to cry, and ran from where she was standing before the judge and sobbed on her foster mother's shoulder. The younger sister raised her hand and thanked the judge, walked over to the great-aunt and hugged her.
Because it is an agreement and not a court decision it doesn't set a legal precedent for similar cases. But the sisters say they have a message for other children in this situation. "Try harder and don't give up," they say, "because you'll win."