Meet Windsor's new poet laureate and Indigenous, multicultural storytellers

The City of Windsor has named a new poet laureate, as well as two new storytellers, as part of a newly expanded program.

City is naming 2 storytellers for the first time

The city of Windsor has announced the appointment of poet laureate Vanessa Shields, Indigenous storyteller Theresa Sims and multicultural community storyteller Teajai Travis. (Kaitie Fraser and Dale Molnar/CBC)

The City of Windsor has named a new poet laureate and, for the first time, two new storytellers to reflect the Indigenous community and the city's multiculturalism.

Poet and spoken word artist Teajai Travis has been appointed the city's first multicultural community storyteller.

"The expansion of this sort of program, and to be invited into it, to continue to do the work that I already do, but with a much larger platform, is going to put me in a position to lift a lot of other voices that are holding onto important stories," Travis said.

One of the projects he's taking on within the new role is a cookbook to showcase the diversity of food traditions — using food as a conduit for storytelling.

Meet the city's first-ever multicultural community storyteller: Teajai Travis

1 year ago
Duration 0:30
Teajai Travis is an artist and activist. He has been selected to be the city of Windsor's first multicultural community storyteller. He plans to start his new role creating a cookbook to showcase cultural diversity across Windsor-Essex.

"In my family, we passed down soul food and it's a recipe that goes from one person to the next person and it's a secret ... but you have the stories that go along with it," said Travis, who is the executive director of Artcite Inc. and an artist facilitator with Arts Can Teach Windsor-Essex.

Theresa Sims, the city's first Indigenous storyteller, is a knowledge keeper, elder of the upper Mohawk, Turtle Clan of Six Nations of the Grand River, and well-known voice on Indigenous issues.

"I've always been a storyteller — it's been multi-generational in my family. So it's being recognized, and the Indigenous population [is] being recognized also as having a spokesperson and having also an ambassador," said Sims, who is Mohawk and has around 27 nations within her family.

Sims does traditional openings at events, sings welcome songs and performs stories for children and adults. She also shares the history of the Indigenous population in this region, and that's one of the things she is looking to continue in her new position.

Meet the city's first-ever Indigenous storyteller: Theresa Sims

1 year ago
Duration 0:42
Theresa Sims is an Indigenous community leader, Knowledge Keeper and Elder. One of the things she plans to do within her new role is highlight how historical contributions of Windsor-based Indigenous communities helped save Canada.

"We are the original people and we should be the ones that are welcoming people that are coming here because it [the country] was not lost. We were allies during the War of 1812. We were allies during the 1776 when though they were doing their independence from the British realm."

Travis and Sims' appointments will be in effect until 2024.

Vanessa Shields takes over as Windsor's poet laureate from Mary Ann Mulhern.

She is the author of six books of poetry and owns Gertrude's Writing Room — A Gathering Place for Writers at Willistead Park.

Speaking with CBC Radio's Windsor Morning on Wednesday, Shields said the four-year term will give her the chance to take her time on projects and partnerships.

LISTEN: Vanessa Shields shares her first poem as poet laureate on Windsor Morning 

"I'm really going to start sort of at a grassroots level here, and do what I can to get to know the city a little bit more intimately, even though I've lived here my whole life," she said.

"There's so many places and experiences that I haven't had yet, so I'm looking forward to taking my time and honing my poetic voice, and really just diving in even deeper to this great city and telling its stories through poetry."

Shields hopes to establish a poetry festival and is currently working on the project with Marty Gervais, the city's poet laureate emeritus.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

Being Black in Canada highlights stories about Black Canadians. (CBC)

With files from Aastha Shetty