Gentle. Fierce. Intelligent. Fighter. Cherry Smiley is all of these, and so much more. But the one word that truly captures the feminist-artist is none other than Sister. And not in the sibling sort of way, or in the we-look-and-act-so-much-alike-we’re-practically-sisters way. Cherry Smiley is a fierce sister guardian who evokes the past of all women and boldly envisions what a woman-centered liberation looks like, incorporating her talent, skills, spirituality and stories of women to achieve this liberation. For this episode of MsRepresent: Behind the Face, a Fierce Woman, Cherry and I discuss art and politics, the Bedford Case, the generational cycle of prostitution among Indigenous women and girls; capitalism and prostitution, and the stigma of rape culture against women. I spoke with Cherry on a rainy day in March during her art installation exhibit, Revolution Songs.
From the Nlaka’pamux (Thompson) and Dine’ (Navajo) nations, Cherry is an emerging leader among Aboriginal women in Canada and is the recipient of the 2013 Governor General Award in the Commemoration of the Persons Case. She is an internationally recognized speaker on gender equality issues, presenting at key gatherings around the world. Her determination to create awareness about violence against Aboriginal women and girls is apparent in her many volunteer commitments, as well as in her ability to educate through art. Since 2008, Cherry has been involved with Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, where she provides support, information, and advocacy to women and girls who have experienced male violence. From 2008 to 2011, she volunteered with the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network (AWAN). In 2012, she co-facilitated the Sisterwork program at the Urban Native Youth Association (UNYA), engaging young Aboriginal women and girls in discussing violence, creating art and giving presentations to local communities. Cherry is in the Masters of Fine Arts Program at Simon Fraser University, where she was awarded the inaugural Graduate Aboriginal Entrance Scholarship (Masters). She co-founded Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry (IWASI), a volunteer group that works to educate the public about prostitution as an expression of colonialism and male violence and that works to abolish prostitution through progressive social policy. In 2014, she exhibited Revolution Songs, an installation that focused on the experiences of prostituted women and women affected by prostitution. Cherry Smiley lives on Coast Salish territories in Vancouver.