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Meet Atenas Contreras, The Narwhal’s director of operations and finance

A nerd about numbers, organizing things and playing board games — have we been blessed by the perfect human to lead our day-to-day goings-on and someone to keep our finances intact? We’ll let you be the judge

Atenas Contreras hasn’t worked at a library in more than eight years. Her home tells a different story, however: her books are all organized by the Dewey Decimal System. It’s that kind of attention to detail we’ve been blessed with at The Narwhal, with Atenas joining the pod as our director of operations and finance!

Hailing from Mexico City, Atenas moved to the unceded and unsurrendered territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and Səl̓ílwətaʔ (Tsleil-Waututh) nations seven years ago. Her organizational prowess didn’t just better the libraries she worked at, but also spanned the film sector — she comes to The Narwhal after having crunched all the numbers at DOXA, a Vancouver-based non-profit that runs an annual documentary film festival.

I chatted with Atenas to see how many cool and nerdy things I could find out about her — and learned about the celebrity memoir that just wasn’t shady enough for her. Read on to see what Atenas had to say!

Director of operations and finance Atenas Contreras walks up a set of stairs, by the ocean, wearing glasses and a Narwhal toque.
The Narwhal has been blessed with the nerdiness of Atenas Contreras, who organizes her books at home using the Dewey Decimal System. Photo: Isabella Falsetti / The Narwhal

What brought you to the journalism industry after working at DOXA?

I wouldn’t say it was journalism — more so The Narwhal. I knew of this outlet because I had been reading it for a few years, and when I saw the job posting, I was like, ‘Oh, I love The Narwhal and it would be pretty cool to work there!’

Answer this honestly: did you ever mistake us for The Walrus?

No I didn’t — they are different animals!

What are you most excited about in this role?

A lot of the job is, yes, numbers and finances. But there’s also operations and human resources. I’m really excited about making sure that this is the best place to work. I was told in the interview: ‘We just want to make The Narwhal the best newsroom for people to work at.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, that’s like, big ego,’ you know. But then it was like, no, that’s actually achievable. I want to make sure that everyone here at the organization is compensated fairly and treated well. And we are definitely on track to achieve that. I want to be part of that. I want to ensure this is a place people want to work at. And yes, the numbers — I’m gonna always make sure they’re in the black, never in the red.

What’s your favourite Narwhal story?

Steph [Kwetásel’wet Wood]’s investigation into Pacific Wild allegations caught my attention … it made me say, ‘Oh, you guys are doing good investigative journalism.’

What’s your relationship with the natural world like?

It was very funny, when I was having my one-on-one with Fatima [Syed], she said, ‘I think there’s two kinds of people that work at The Narwhal: there are the ones that love nature and just want to make you love nature, and then the ones who are like me, who admire it from afar. So which one are you?’ And, I mean, I love nature, but I have environmental allergies all year long. So, I enjoy nature from afar. I like going on hikes — maybe once every six months. Camping … is definitely not my thing.

Headshot of director of operations and finance Atenas Contreras wearing a Narwhal toque and a sweater. Oceans and mountains out of focus behind her.
‘I enjoy nature from afar. Camping … is definitely not my thing.’ Photo: Isabella Falsetti / The Narwhal

I’ve heard you’re a board game nerd. Which one was the gateway game — and what are you playing now?

I almost feel ashamed to say the gateway game was Catan — like Settlers of Catan. It’s frowned upon by many people, but it’s also a classic and makes you feel smart — I think it should be respected! I just played Vinhos, a game by Vital Lacerda. He’s a famous game designer. He designs a lot of Euro-style board games. It’s about wineries in Portugal. You build your winery, hire experts and sell your wines — it’s really nice!

What’s a guilty pleasure you indulge in?

The Crown. I love The Crown — definitely a guilty pleasure. I also love celebrity memoirs. Although I haven’t read any amazing memoirs recently. Out of the ones I’ve read in the last couple of years, my favourite has been I’m Glad My Mom Died. One of my biggest book disappointments from 2023 was Britney Spears’ memoir. I was expecting way more shade than what I got.

We’ve got big plans for 2024
Seeking out climate solutions, big and small. Investigating the influence of oil and gas lobbyists. Holding leaders accountable for protecting the natural world.

The Narwhal’s reporting team is busy unearthing important environmental stories you won’t read about anywhere else in Canada. And we’ll publish it all without corporate backers, ads or a paywall.

How? Because of the support of a tiny fraction of readers like you who make our independent, investigative journalism free for all to read.

Will you join more than 6,000 members helping us pull off critical reporting this year?
We’ve got big plans for 2024
Seeking out climate solutions, big and small. Investigating the influence of oil and gas lobbyists. Holding leaders accountable for protecting the natural world.

The Narwhal’s reporting team is busy unearthing important environmental stories you won’t read about anywhere else in Canada. And we’ll publish it all without corporate backers, ads or a paywall.

How? Because of the support of a tiny fraction of readers like you who make our independent, investigative journalism free for all to read.

Will you join more than 6,000 members helping us pull off critical reporting this year?

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