Heather O’Watch creates her own story by looking to her past
- Andrea Bellerose
To say Heather O’Watch is a woman of many interests would be an understatement.
An alumni of the Indigenous Communications Arts Program at First Nations University of Canada, she is currently pursuing a graduate degree from the Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy and is releasing her first children’s novel this year.
O’Watch is a storyteller at heart.
It’s a skill she developed by combining her formal education with her traditional Nakoda and Cree teachings.
“A lot of my great-grandfather’s stories were around prophecies, but were also around kinship and relationships,” she said. “There is a particular story he told that talks about respect and having the mutual respect of someone else who has another faith whether that be Christianity, maybe Islam, maybe Buddhism.”
Being respectful of all faiths is something O’Watch not only learned from her ancestors, but practises in her own life. At the same time, she’s aware that some stories have been altered to fit a certain narrative.
“As a younger person who listens to some of the stories, sometimes I listen to it through a Westernized lens and I have to take a step back to recognize that,” said O’Watch. “So I have to unlearn that part of me that’s been so engrained in the way society is shaped around us.”
When asked about what makes Indigenous storytelling unique and special, she shared her insights.
“I think that what makes Indigenous storytelling unique and special is that it’s done, usually orally,” said O’Watch. “It is done through jokes, sometimes it is done through laughter. It could be done through crying as well and I think that is what makes it unique. It is not just one way or another of telling it.”
Heather’s perspective on what makes Indigenous storytelling unique has carried over into her own writing.
She is set to release her first novel, Auntie’s Rez Surprise.
“It started with a story about an Auntie that has this relationship with their niece and has brought over a surprise and one of those surprises is a rez puppy,” said O’Watch. “As an Auntie myself and an Auntie that has five dogs who are all rez dogs, it came to be this really loving story about kinship.”
In keeping with the Indigenous storytelling style, it also has some humour and some jokes mixed in, she said.
As a young Indigenous woman, O’Watch is aware of the obstacles in her way. In the sectors of philanthropy she currently works in, she doesn’t necessarily see a representation of herself.
“There are sectors of industry that didn’t want us in these places to begin with,” said O’Watch. “We’re starting to create and share our own stories whether it be some humorous book about Auntie’s Rez Surprise or whether it’s about working on a global spectrum or whether it is just about hearing other people’s stories sitting down in a community hall, or a centre, or even a public library.”
She believes her generation is taking on roles that weren’t created for them and the next generation is going to take up a leadership role as well.
She maintains positivity and hope for the future.
O’Watch was able to publish her book after winning the Second Story Press’ Indigenous Writers Contest where she received a publishing contract. The book will be released in both Cree and English versions sometime this year.