After 25 years at the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council’s main office in Port Alberni, Cathy Watts reflects on her fondness for being where the action is, juggling constant telephone calls while attending to visitors who approached her front desk.
“It was hectic at times, but I did it,” said Watts, who retired earlier this year. “I looked forward to just helping out the people and doing the best I could in the front.”
Quick with an answer while wasting no time to attend to anything at hand, Watts was in her familiar post on and off since she started with the tribal council in 1998, finally earning the full-time job in 2007. Her handprints are all over the tribal council after years of working in various other departments as well, including some time assisting with office duties for Ha-Shilth-Sa.
“I got into doing odd jobs around the building, like painting,” recalled Watts, who painted with fellow long-time employee Yvonne Lucas, who currently manages travel reservations. “We actually painted the whole hallway, upstairs to downstairs.”
Watts and Lucas even painted a house the mental health department was using in Tofino. She also learned to help issue status cards. She owes her work ethic to being able to leave personal matters out of the office, allowing her to focus on putting her job first.
“Don’t bring anything from home into the office. If there was ever anything seriously happening at home or a family problem, I just left it at home and I dealt with it after work,” she said. “Same with work. If there was something happening at work, I wouldn’t talk about it at home, I would just leave it there and deal with it the next day.”
With 10 siblings, Watts grew up on the Tseshaht reserve, mere blocks away from the main NTC office. For her job she returned to the location of where she attended kindergarten: For one year, Watts was the only one among her brothers and sisters to attend the day program at the Alberni Indian Residential School, which once stood at the site of the NTC office building.
Watts vividly recalls the daily routine of going and coming from the school.
“My mom, she used to bath me and dress me, and my oldest brother or sister would walk me down to the end of the road and wait for the big school bus to go by,” she said. “I’d jump on that bus and take a ride up to NTC hill, through those big gates, past the big building and to our kindergarten class.”
Memories of her years at the tribal council are also vivid, but Watts admits that she’s ready to step away from work life.
“I’m going to miss my work family…I’m going to miss them, but I will cherish the memories I had with them all the years I was there,” she said. “You’ve got to really love what you do, and I loved what I did.”