Achievements

Governor-General's award winner: Cherry Smiley

February 14, 2014
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Cherry Smiley describes herself as a proud First Nations woman, radical feminist, prostitution abolitionist, activist and artist.

Now, she can add Governor-General’s award-winner to the list.

A graduate student in the School of the Contemporary Arts’ fine arts program, Smiley is one of five Canadians to receive a 2013 Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Person’s Case. She is one of two youth recipients.

The awards celebrate the five women whose work led to the historic legal decision to have the word “person” declared to include both women and men. The award recognizes individuals who have shown similar courage and determination to significantly advance equality for women and girls in Canada.

Smiley is a frequent speaker on issues of violence against Aboriginal women and girls, prostitution, and equality for women and girls. She has spoken throughout Canada, in New York City and in Norway.

Over the past five years, Smiley has worked with Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter and volunteered with the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network until 2011. In 2012 she co-facilitated the Sisterwork program at the Urban Native Youth Association to engage young Aboriginal women and girls in discussing violence, creating art and giving presentations to local communities.

Last year she co-founded Indigenous Women Against the Sex industry, a volunteer group working to educate the public about prostitution as an expression of colonialism and male violence. The group is also advocating for progressive social policies that will abolish prostitution.

“My activism and art aren’t separate,” says Smiley, who is primarily a photographer but also incorporates video, sound and text into her art projects.

The award, says Smiley, “is a recognition not only of my work but of other women, girls and organizations that are working for a similar goal—equality.”

She’s hopeful that the award will give a platform to further her causes.

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