Freedom as controversy: Indigenous women and girls and the abolition of prostitution

On October 16, 2014, The Nora and Ted Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy was presented to Cherry Smiley. Her activism and work for Indigenous women and girls and against the sex industry is foundational, in terms of the feminist movement and the work of women across the world to end prostitution. In her talk, “Freedom as controversy: Indigenous women and girls and the abolition of prostitution” (featured in the video below), Smiley says, “Prostitution is a gendered system — an act of male violence against women and girls that both reinforces and expresses patriarchy, colonialism, racism, and capitalism.”

My work has been shaped so deeply by Smiley’s knowledge, analysis, and activism — I quite literally would not do what I do, had I not met her. She has taught me so much about the history of colonialism in Canada, how that history connects to the ongoing exploitation and abuse of Indigenous women and girls today, and how to approach the issue of prostitution in a responsible way, as a feminist, an ally, and a settler.

It is my great honour to call her my sister.

Cherry Smiley is from the Nlaka’pamux (Thompson) and Dine’ (Navajo) Nations. She is an artist, Indigenous feminist activist, and prostitution abolitionist. Smiley is also a front line anti-violence worker, accomplished public speaker on sexualized colonial violence against Indigenous women and girls, and a co-founder of Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry (IWASI). She completed an MFA at Simon Fraser University in 2014. As part of her thesis, she exhibited Revolution Songs, an installation that focused on the experiences of prostituted women and women affected by prostitution.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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