By Robert Lucke
Her grandfather was Little Bear, chief of the Crees. Her father was legendary tribal elder, Four Souls. Her mother was Fanny Sunchild. She is Zellah Nault whose mission is to guide Rocky Boy young people in good and wholesome ways.
To do that, she has worked for the last 17 years as a part of the Rocky Boy school system. But her story starts way before that.
Nault was born at Rocky Boy in 1943. She has five sisters and three brothers. But she can tell it better.
"We didn't have much when I was growing up but neither did anyone else, and so we didn't know what we were missing out on," Nault said. "I remember we went to town once a month and that was a treat."
"I was brought up in a real strict way," Nault continued. "In those days girls didn't have any activities at all. I went to day schools and did not go out after dark. My dad was strict. We certainly didn't have any cars or anything like that."
Nault described the day schools as three elementary and one middle school on the reservation. Those schools were run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. For high school, students had to go into Box Elder or Havre.
"And oh, they were strict. I remember one day I broke a window and Allan Crain was my teacher. He got me a big butcher knife out of the kitchen and told me to go out and cut a big stick for a switch," Nault recalled. "Of course, I took a long time doing that, maybe an hour and a half. By the time I had gotten back, Mr. Crain had forgotten all about me. Thank goodness!"
Nault went to Box Elder for high school.
"I had wanted to go to boarding school, but my mother said that she could take better care of me and wouldn't let me go," Nault said. "I graduated, went for a year to Northern, and then got married."
Nault married Alfred Nault. He was killed in a car accident some years ago. Nault has one boy, Emery Nault, and three grandchildren along with one great-grandchild.
After her son graduated from school, she went back to college at MSU-Bozeman and took business classes.
Nault has seen lots of changes at Rocky Boy through the years. Some good. Some not so good.
"I think if our kids were raised the way we were raised, we wouldn't have the violence in the schools. We just didn't used to have any problems in school. We were made to go to school," Nault related.
"These days, there is lots of defiance in kids," Nault said. "I have been in the school system 17 years and I get along with the kids. That's because I respect them and they respect me. I am real close to them and have never had a problem, but there is defiance here sometimes. Everywhere nowadays, I guess."
Nault expects more out of her kids than most.
"When we are in a different school or somewhere, I tell the kids that we are Indians and we are looked down upon anyway, so we are going to watch our manners," Nault said. "And you know they do just that!"
One of the major problems at Rocky Boy, as in most schools, is drugs.
"Too many drugs! We are a drug-free school and we do drug tests before going to field events and things like that. We have made good progress, but it is still here. Somehow drugs slip through the cracks," Nault continued.
An answer to the drug problem is to keep Rocky Boy youth busy.
"What we need out here is a big activity sports complex or something. A place where there can be activities all year long. Other places are building them. Schools cannot be depended on to provide activities all year long. When basketball is over, our kids sometimes go by the wayside," Nault said.
There are some positive things happening at Rocky Boy these days.
"Most people seem to have jobs," Nault said. "They say there is high unemployment, but there is work if you want to work hard."
What about prejudice off the reservation?
"It is not half as bad as it was before. There are a few problems but not many in Havre," Nault related. "Not nearly as much as in the city of Spokane. A couple of weeks ago, we had some students there and were walking from the Spokane Civic Center to our hotel and people in a car shouted things about us. We just told our kids to keep walking and not say anything."
So how about 20 years from now in Rocky Boy?
"I am very uneasy. We are getting into international things. I worry that kids in the future are not going to be safe. My great-grandchild in 20 years from now? What kind of a life will he have?" Nault asked.
Somehow with great-grandma Nault around with her guiding and counseling. And many tribal elders like her, that great-grandchild will probably be just fine!