Local Author Spotlight – Jodie Callaghan

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Jodie Callaghan (Barnaby) has many impressive achievements and accomplishments, both academically and careerwise. She is an award-winning author and has a number of degrees, including a Bachelor of Arts, a Bachelor of Journalism, a Post Graduate Diploma in Education, and a Master of Education. Callaghan has worked as a journalist with APTN in the Halifax bureau and has worked and studied abroad in Scotland. Since her return to Listuguj, she has been an educator for the past 10 years. She currently teaches English at the Adult Education centre in the community, Elawsimgewei Gina’muo’guom.

Callaghan wrote her story, The Train, in 2009-2010. The story is about a young girl who learns about her Great-Uncle’s experiences and the long-lasting and damaging effects of residential school. The Uncle reminisces about a train in their community that was used to transport the children to residential school, where their lives would change forever. The story centers on the young girl’s emotions and initial reaction to learning about residential school. She said that the young girl in the story represents how she felt, or how anyone might feel upon learning about Canada’s tragic history. They may go through many emotions, like anger, and confusion, but these feelings are valid and are important to be talked about, for educational purposes and for healing.

The story was written around the time of the government of Canada’s apology to former students in the residential school system. Callaghan had been working for APTN at the time and was covering news stories at the former site of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School. She interviewed survivors and their family members, and they shared their experiences and stories with her on that historical day. Regarding her inspiration for The Train, Callaghan said, “There was an elder there, he was a survivor, and he was talking about getting on a train to go to the school, and I had that visual in my mind – these little children getting on this train. When you think about little kids getting on trains, it’s exciting, it’s a positive experience, but for the survivors, it was the opposite.”

Callaghan’s grandmother, Margie Martin had attended the Indian Day School in the community. Some of the references in The Train were direct examples from her grandmother’s own personal experience.

Callaghan submitted her story to Mi’gmawei Mawio’mi Secretariat (MMS) for their annual Mi’gmaq Writers Award contest, where she won first place. Years later, a publishing company, Second Story Press announced they were holding an Indigenous Writing and Illustration Contest. She decided to submit The Train, and won the children’s category. For winning this contest, she had her story published by Second Story Press, after they found Georgia Lesley to provide the book’s illustrations, it was released to the public in March 2020.

The book’s success has earned Callaghan multiple award nominations, including the 2021 Silver Birch Express Award, the 2022 Ann Connor Brimer Award for Atlantic Canadian Children’s Literature, and the 2022 Indigenous Voices Award. The Train is available locally at The Flying Canoe Bookstore, and online at Amazon, Chapters, or GoodMinds Indigenous Books. The book also comes in the dual-language edition, called G’as, which was interpreted and translated by local elder, Joe Wilmot.

Callaghan said that she has always wanted to write a book and have it published, so the whole experience was very surreal. When she is not teaching, or spending time with her family, she is still writing. For her next project, she plans on writing young adult horror stories focusing on Indigenous lore.

By Ann Marie Jacques

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