Interview of Beatrice Watts

Profile Beatrice Watts
From Women Speak (PACSW newsletter), Vol. 2, #2, Spring 1984

"IkajuksainarumaVunga imminek pivitsaKatsiangitunek. I like to help where help is needed, whether it be minority groups, native groups, just those whose life circumstances are not as fortunate as others." This is what Beatrice Watts stands for - she is an activist for human rights. A woman who, in her own culture is an enigma. A woman in whose cultural heritage, leadership and decision making was traditionally left to men. Beatrice is a leader of people.

As a small girl Beatrice left her parents Joe & Rosie Ford and her home on Black Island to attend the Moravian boarding school in Nain. She was strongly influenced by her parents and especially by her teacher Doris Peacock, to continue her education. Beatrice, an excellent student, was sent on to complete Grade XI at Yale School in North West River. From here, she attended Memorial University to take teacher training and after her first year returned to Nain to teach. As an educator Beatrice recalls using both Inuktitut and English quite automatically in the classroom. "Actually I adapted materials to my needs, it was a lot cheaper and then the schools had nothing in our language". Beatrice continued to teach in Nain until the age of 26, and then as she jokingly puts it "married late in life". She moved to North West River with her husband Ron where they raised a family of five. Although Bea, as she is affectionately known by some, was not teaching in a school she opened her own day care centre and kept a proverbial "foot in the door". Community minded Bea was actively involved in several women's groups.

When her youngest child was four, Beatrice resumed her teaching career and within several years was appointed Principal at Yale School. It was during these years education in Labrador was under the scrutiny of a Royal Commission.

It's findings pointed out the fact that schools of Northern Labrador were offering little or no native language instruction and used a provincial curriculum that had a complete disregard for the uniqueness of the Labrador situation. The Labrador East Integrated School Board wanting to rectify the situation appointed Beatrice to a supervisory position. In this capacity she became responsible for initiating classes in the native language, training for native teachers and working with teachers in the field on multi-media kits on people and places in Labrador. Beatrice was then appointed to a field work co-ordinator for Memorial University's Teacher Education Program in Labrador. Under this program, native teachers stay in their home communities and take required courses to certify as classroom teachers. She is presently teaching a 6-week course for this program in Nain. With her wealth of knowledge about the language and culture of the Inuit people, Beatrice was asked to serve on the advisory board of the Memorial University's Labrador Institute of Northern Studies.

Her concern for the plight of all women and especially native women of Labrador was verified by the fact that she was a former member of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women and is presently serving as President of the newly formed Native Women's Association.

As Beatrice travels with the School Board she keeps in touch with women in each of the communities, encouraging them to unite and strive to improve their situations. She continues to urge them to affirm their identity and culture. She is concerned as well for those involved with the law, many of whom are unable to understand the language of the Labrador Legal Services. This program, sponsored by the Provincial Justice Department, provides positions for bilingual court workers. These persons act as interpretors (sic) and advisors to native peoples accused of criminal offences.

Again, Beatrice's concern for the rights of people is evidenced by her acceptance of a position as Commissioner on the Human Rights Commission for Newfoundland and Labrador. When the Government announced closure of the North West River Hospital in March of '83, she immediately volunteered to serve on the Health Action Committee to protest this closure and to assist those who were about to lose jobs. Also at this time a municipal election was underway and Beatrice was a successful candidate to the council subsequently becoming Mayor of North West River, the first woman mayor in Labrador.

In her latest plea for the rights of people, she chairs an ad hoc committee for the support of those social workers who were dismissed from their jobs in North West River and Sheshatshit. Committed to causes, if they are worthy, this quiet spoken lady has done and said much in her lifetime. Truly she is and will live on to be one of the most respected native women of Labrador. Beatrice is a woman proud of her bilingualism, biculturalism and Labrador heritage. She is a woman who fights injustice and ignorance with the same strength and perseverance of ancestors who have endured in this rugged and often foreboding climate.

"I recall when I was 12 years old", says Beatrice, "having to accompany a female teacher from Nain across the Kiglapaits by dog team to Hebron. I went as a chaperone!"
 
-by Libby Anderson