Honest Pride: Jaymie Campbell interviews Odette Auger

Odette Auger

Past contributor Jaymie Campbell talks with Odette Auger, whose memoir "Waiting" appears in our fall issue #224. They discuss loaded comments, centring lesser-heard voices, and recognizing the strength of our earliest personalities.


Odette Auger is Sagamok Anishnawbek through her mom. As a freelance journalist, her bylines include The Resolve, La Converse, The Tyee, Asparagus Magazine, Watershed Sentinel, IndigiNews, and APTN National News. When not writing, she’s gardening by the Salish Sea. authory.com/OdetteAuger

One thing that really comes through in this piece is your layered use of waiting. Yes—waiting used literally—but also it seems waiting for your family to be given their dues, given respite from both having to ask for payment, but also from racism. To me, there is also an undertone of hope—perhaps even joy—that your family will get once they’ve waited long enough. You really see that glimmer in the last sentence. Did you intend for this piece to reach out for hope? What was your initial intention for this piece, and did it evolve as you wrote it?

Hope really is my thing, it’s a defining part of my personality but also it’s how I’m still here. So that will emerge in my writing, but for me the last line was more about honest pride. Recognizing beneath all the frustrations and mistreatment, the biggest need was self-pride. I go into stories, even journalism, open-ended, without an attachment to a specific outcome. In this story, the theme of waiting emerged as I wrote.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your piece and felt my chest tighten as we waited alongside you. You did a really fantastic job of building up suspense about what would happen each time you waited in the car, as well as highlighting your mother’s apparent disassociation. Do you see your writing as a form of waiting, or more a form of finally being set free from waiting?

I wouldn’t say my mom disassociated—but I see what you mean. I think she has a very patient love, and there is a peace she’s created for herself, but that’s another story.

I always wrote—but it took me a long time to use my voice. Using my writing to amplify others’ voices, centring less-heard voices helped me return to my creative writing. I like the idea you can sense the tension and time that took.

The part in which you speak about your mother’s reluctance to sit in a waiting room is so very powerful. I think so many Indigenous people can relate to this piece, particularly experiences within the healthcare system waiting rooms. The furthering of this section into the simple description of your mother’s appearance and her kids’ eyes leads to such seemingly innocent comments of stereotyping that are actually much more loaded. You write, “Years later [my mother] spoke of it: ‘It meant, this can’t be my kid, with those light eyes.’” What was it you were hoping that readers would glean from this part of the story, as you spoke about it so poignantly?

I was hoping readers would enter the moments, through a child’s eyes, in a different way than being told, despite good intentions, that’s an ethnocentric rut you’re in, minimizing others’ experiences, conditional acceptance. There’s nothing micro about those aggressions—people are made to feel othered, excluded, not honoured for their diversity. I hoped a different approach might communicate those things, but also see the long-term stains.

Writing can often be a form of healing, with storytelling being so integral to Indigenous culture. I get the sense from this piece that you are writing to your younger self. What would you say not only to yourself, but to other readers with stories of waiting if you could speak to that young girl in the backseat?

I’ve heard this is a counselling technique, recognizing the child-self and connecting to those parts of ourselves. For me, that came up during an abusive moment. I literally couldn’t understand how this was happening, saw myself very much the same person at core as when I was in grade 2—and why would anyone want to hurt that girl? It was a clarifying moment.

Recognizing the strengths, quirks, and heart of our earliest personalities—growing doesn’t need to mean ditching that. I think we can remind each other to draw strength from those parts of who we are.

I am always so curious to know about a writer’s process. Do you have physical processes you follow—routines, places, items—when you write a piece like this? I am also curious to know how you practice self-care—not only after writing a piece, but also after you let it out into the world.

I don’t have a process, maybe because journalism definitely does. I do have a flow, though. Most of my writing happens between 4 and 6 am. I sometimes wake up from a dream with a story seed. More often, in trying to fall back asleep, I resolve moments or scenes in my novel. Falling asleep with an image or scene in my mind increases the odds of me waking up with ideas for it.

Self-care is an interesting thing, we’re praised for resilience, and I don’t share all the ways I’m not taking care. Having dear ones, writers and editors I can debrief stuff with, or trust to get an insightful read from—they became my writing family.

The vulnerability of writing is something I wasn’t expecting, which is odd since it definitely was what took me so long. But it was intense, sending out a manuscript in progress for the first time really interrupted my flow. Finishing a piece had a certain goodbye in it, I felt a loss in my early hours. Sharing those feelings with a writing group helped. And then a writing sister nudged me, come on, it means you need to write the next one.


Jaymie Campbell

Jaymie Campbell