Cherry Smiley

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Indigenous artist/activist receives Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy

November 20, 2014
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Last month, indigenous feminist and prostitution abolitionist Cherry Smiley accepted Simon Fraser University’s 2014 Nora and Ted Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy.

The award honours and encourages work that provokes or contributes to the understanding of controversy.

A member of the Nlaka'pamux (Thompson) and Diné (Navajo) Nations, Smiley is a recent SFU master of fine arts (MFA) graduate who uses her art to further her political goals.

As part of her graduating project, she exhibited a photography/text installation, Revolution Songs: stories of prostitution, in Vancouver this past spring and organized a panel on prostitution in the exhibition space.

Smiley is also a front-line anti-violence worker and accomplished public speaker on sexualized colonial violence against indigenous women and girls. As well, she has co-founded Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry (IWASI), an unfunded group working toward ending prostitution.

In 2013, she received a Governor General's Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case (youth) for her work in the interest of women's equality.

As part of the Sterling prize, Smiley was invited to give a public lecture at the Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue. She spoke about how the perceived normalcy of both prostitution and pornography has rendered the concept of abolishing prostitution a controversial issue.

“When I’m talking about prostitution, the prostituted women I’m talking about are friends and family members,” says Smiley. “I’m coming from a place of love, not anger. For me, prostitution is the most obvious intersection between race, class and gender inequalities.”

Jon Driver, SFU v-p academic says, "I have attended presentations by many eminent scholars and public figures, but Ms. Smiley's public lecture as the winner of the Sterling Prize for Controversy stands out as a tour de force of public speaking.

“She showed her passionate commitment to justice for Aboriginal women and girls, yet never let her deeply felt emotions overwhelm the need to present logical arguments about prostitution and the law.

“Listening to her, I felt that she was someone who could lead a national movement to bring about real changes in attitudes and actions."