In March of 2002 Matilda Atleo began her journey with Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC) in the nursing department. Prior to that, Atleo was working as a caterer after going to culinary school. At the time she catered to the nursing department at the NTC and sought out a volunteer position there.
Atleo endearingly shares, “I kept bugging her,” asking Jeannette Watts, manager of Nursing Services at NTC, if she could volunteer.
Atleo started out doing data input, which would begin 20 years of work dedicated to the health of Nuu-chah-nulth communities.
Atleo’s journey was inspired by her late-husband, George Watts, one of the founding members of the NTC.
She shared with Ha-Shilth-Sa that she remembered when her late-husband took her to the old building and said, “We’re going to tear this building down, and we’re gonna build an NTC office here.”
In Atleo’s role as community health promotion worker she worked passionately to provide Nuu-chah-nulth nations with the health services, resources, and education they needed. Atleo’s health education duties ranged from heart health to kidney health, to women and men’s health, to diabetes, and overall healthy living. She also had a major role in organizing health fairs.
Atleo said that her favorite part of her role at NTC was meeting people, and then witnessing the impact and appreciation of the health services that were being provided.
“I always tried to do the best I could. And I was so compassionate about people and wanted to help people,” said Atleo.
Atleo’s work was felt deeply at the NTC nursing department. Her knowledge of and connections with the communities informed the department of the various services that were needed from community to community.
“She wanted to do whatever she could that would strengthen links between people,” said Jeannette Watts. “And that would increase capacity in the communities to work towards… improved health.”
“She is dedicated and loyal to whatever the nation's needs are,” added Watts.
According to Watts, Atleo was instrumental in bringing in a mobile mammogram clinic, the development of personal wellness plans, cooking lessons, diabetes care and prevention. Atleo promoted First Nations perspectives on holistic health and wellness, including social, mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical health, said Watts.
Atleo also provided mentorship for others within the NTC nursing department with her knowledge of Nuu-chah-nulth language and culture.
“She was kind of the cultural mentor for me,” said Catherine Gislason, clinical nurse leader.
Debra Skelhorne, clinical services assistant, said that Atleo is someone who is very knowledgeable, and was always willing to answer questions to help in the department.
“She is one of the most genuine people I've ever met,” said Skelhorne.
Gislason considers Atleo a friend and mentor and said that she is very missed.
After 20 years of work at NTC, Atleo is now embarking on a new chapter.
“First I'd probably say I'm very grateful for the opportunity to work there and to be able to do the work I did,” said Atleo.
Atleo recently completed the Indigenous End of Life Guide with the First Nations Health Authority and became a member of the Alberni Valley Hospice Board. Atleo said that she will continue to connect with Nuu-chah-nulth communities in regard to at-home hospice and palliative care.
“I always say, there's always more work to be done,” said Atleo.