Poets wanted: Vancouver seeks nominations for poet laureate from local First Nations

The call is out for nominations and applications for the city of Vancouver’s next poet laureate. The city is looking to award the role to someone from Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh or Squamish Nation as part of its commitment to being a “city of reconciliation.”

'We have incredible talent within the local nations here,' says Vancouver's Ginger Gosnell-Myers

The city's poet laureate position is supported by the City of Vancouver, Vancouver Public Library and the Vancouver Writers Fest, funded through an endowment from Yosef Wosk. (Rishad Daroowala/Flickr)

The call is out for nominations for Vancouver's next poet laureate and the city is looking to award the role to someone from Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh or Squamish Nation as part of its commitment to being a "city of reconciliation."

Ginger Gosnell-Myers, who works as the city's Aboriginal relations manager, said the city has heard a lot from the three nations about how they'd like to be more visible on their land.

"I think we can expect that our next poet laureate is going to help define what that means and what role Vancouverites have in understanding whose territories they're on and the stories that maybe we don't know, but should," she said.

Vancouver city council formally acknowledged that the city is located on the unceded traditional territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations in 2014, the same year it designated itself a "city of reconciliation."

Nominations for the poet laureate position are open until Dec. 15 and the role will begin sometime in 2018. This will be Vancouver's fifth poet laureate. The honorary position can be held for two to three years. 

"We have incredible talent within the local nations here and we hope that this gives them some unique opportunities that can help sustain their work into the years coming forward," Gosnell-Myers said.

'It was a pretty exponential shift in change'

With Vancouver poised to name its first Indigenous person to the role of poet laureate, CBC News checked in with Rebecca Thomas, who holds the title in Halifax.

She became the city's poet laureate in 2016 and will be wrapping up in March of next year.

Thomas is a Mi'kmaw poet with roots in the Lennox Island First Nation in Prince Edward Island. She has a master's degree in social anthropology and works as an Indigenous supports advisor at Nova Scotia Community College.

"Professionally it was a pretty exponential shift in change for me," said Thomas of her role.

"A lot of opportunities came through because I coupled a lot of my academic background through my poetry. So I often use my poetry to teach and educate, not just a perspective shift… but these are some historical facts that we are going to throw in here and this is the current everyday lived reality."

Rebecca Thomas has found poetry a way to get across major themes of identity, politics, misrepresentation and appropriation in a concise manner. (Facebook)

Looking back on the past couple of years, Thomas said she's gone far beyond being a poet and advocate for the arts. She said she and the city's previous poet laureate, El Jones, have morphed the position into a "city-sanctioned activist role," using it to lobby the city for the rights of under-served and marginalized communities.

'Things to say'

She said it's great to hear Vancouver is looking to have a First Nations person become the next poet laureate, in the spirit of reconciliation. But she also cautions the city to be prepared for whatever truth this person might have to share.

"This Indigenous poet laureate presumably is going to have things to say and they're going to point to the inadequacies or the shortcomings of the city's attempt to be this reconciliation thing and they have to be willing to sit in that and own their humility and listen," she said.

Gosnell-Myers said the City of Vancouver is open to hearing whatever those truths might be, adding that this is just another example of efforts being made to build on its designation as a city of reconciliation.

"We're looking forward to engaging with the poet laureate on new opportunities that perhaps we haven't thought about that can help to find this truth — so that all Vancouverites can understand something that they perhaps didn't know before, but we're giving them the opportunity to know it now."