Cherry Smiley enters BC NDP race hoping to provide a ‘different perspective’
With a challenge for the leadership of the NDP, women’s rights activist and scholar Cherry Smiley is hoping to bring awareness to struggles facing women, seniors, and people suffering from drug addiction in B.C.
Caring for her aging grandparents at home, Smiley says she saw first hand the health-care crisis facing residents of the province, particularly elders.
“The main motivator was being a caregiver for my grandparents for quite a long time before they passed away,” Smiley told BC Today. “Seeing the struggles that our elders go through, but also the paid and unpaid caregivers, the barriers that they face to providing proper care for seniors.”
Smiley is from the Nlaka’pamux and Diné Nations and is a member of the Lower Nicola Indian Band. The 38 year-old is a former Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation scholar set to graduate with a PhD in communications from Concordia University this fall.
If elected to the premier’s office, Smiley says she would provide additional funding and support for families taking care of loved ones at home to alleviate expenses and loss of employment that often come with being a caregiver.
“Very often it’s women who are doing the caregiving, so perhaps they’re sandwiched between their children and their elderly parents,” she said. “For the province to be able to provide more, not just monetary support, emotional support — it’s a difficult thing to do, it requires a lot of work. But it is something that is just so important.”
Ending violence and addiction
Besides health care, Smiley says she is focused on making life better for vulnerable women. In B.C., more than 60,000 physical or sexual assaults are committed against women each year, with young Indigenous women and girls facing the highest risk of violence. Growing up, she says she saw the violence women face on a daily basis, as well as the cycle of addiction many people get stuck in.
Smiley says that she has been the victim of physical and sexual abuse herself. Last year, she launched a lawsuit against the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, alleging her former mentor, ex-Northwest Territories premier Stephen Kakfwi, made inappropriate advances towards her and touched her in a way that made her uncomfortable.
The matter is currently before the Supreme Court of British Columbia, with Smiley seeking $500,000 in damages for breach of contract, $500,000 for breach of confidence and $250,000 in punitive damages.
In light of these experiences, Smiley said she conducted her thesis on violence against Indigenous women and girls, worked as a front-line anti-violence worker in a rape crisis centre and transition house for battered women and their children, assisted in the co-ordination of an anti-violence group for young Indigenous women, and co-founded Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry in 2019.
On the subject of addiction, Smiley says one aspect rarely talked about is the need for more detox centres.
“We’re not talking about recovery, we’re not talking about prevention,” she said. “If we have safe injection sites, for example, and you can go and inject a drug in five minutes, you need to be able to access a detox bed in five minutes, as well. And so we need to have those resources ready and waiting.”
Another policy Smiley is advancing which she believes would help with the addiction and violence against women crises is the provision of safe and affordable housing. She says she’d like to see the province build more co-op and public housing to move away from housing as a for-profit industry.
On being an outsider
Having never been involved in politics prior to this campaign, Smiley understands she’ll have very little traditional support compared to fellow contenders David Eby, a former cabinet minister, and environmental activist and past federal NDP candidate Anjali Appadurai. She said she aims to rally other members on the fringes of the party to her cause.
At the same time, she says being an outsider is where she feels most comfortable.
“It’s a very scary thing to do, to put yourself out into the public in this way and to go against really well established politicians,” Smiley acknowledged. “However, I don’t think that that means that I’m not qualified. I don’t think that that means that I’m not able to do this job.”
She ventured that perhaps what the NDP, and B.C. by extension, need is “somebody who understands the world from a slightly different perspective.”
“I do think that with issues such as elder care caregiving, you really do get a perspective going through that that you can’t get otherwise,” said Smiley, adding that the same applies for lived experience dealing with matters such as addiction and the impacts of colonization.