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Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Indigenous Mom Whose Daughter Was Murdered Granted Custody of 4-Year-Old Granddaughter for Second Time

Arlene Ballot and granddaughter Chanel. Photo:

Despite being granted custody again, Arlene Ballot was ordered to wait until July 31 to begin a three-week transition of custody

As Arlene Ballot prepares to finally pick up her murdered daughter’s child from the couple who have had her for most of her 4 years of life, she can be forgiven for being cautiously optimistic about actually bringing Chanel home.

The July 17 decision to award Ballot custody is the second time the Selawik Tribal Court in Alaska has ordered Chanel, an indigenous child, to be returned to her grandmother.  Nikki Richman, who is not related to Chanel, gained temporary custody through the child’s father, Eric Rustad, who murdered Chanel’s mother Kristen Huntington in January 2020.

"This is three years too long. They shouldn't be allowed to keep dragging it on, abusing the court system to keep this child from her grandmother," Antonia Commack, Huntington’s friend since childhood who is also involved in the legal battle, tells PEOPLE. "I knew in my heart that being quiet was wrong and it was time to speak up."

And a recent Supreme Court decision might add some extra weight going forward.

The week before the latest Selawik Tribal Court ruling, The Supreme Court upheld the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, which says the first priority is to put the child in the care of a member of their extended family. If that is not possible, the child should be placed with a member of their tribe. The third option is to look for "other Indian families." Only after those three options have been exhausted will they be eligible to be placed with a non-Native family. 

In their December ruling, the Selawik Tribal Court found tribal elder Ballot able to meet the child’s needs and, in addition, "can better connect her to her Native culture." 


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