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The Greatest Indigenous-Canadian Athletes Day 4: Waneek Horn-Miller

Zach Friedman

Strength, perseverance, and a powerful voice. These words perfectly sum up Indigenous-Canadian athlete Waneek Horn-Miller. During her career, she has had many successes athletically but also has several achievements in her time as an Indigenous-rights activist.

Born in Quebec in 1975, Waneek Horn-Miller comes from the Mohawk community of Kahnawake. Horn-Miller began swimming competitively at a very young age. Seeing Horn-Miller's potential, her mother moved their family to Ottawa across from a YMCA granting easy access to a swimming facility.

Horn-Miller was introduced in the media under grim circumstances in 1990 during the Oka Crisis in Quebec. The Oka Crisis was a conflict between the Canadian government and the Mohawk regarding matters of land expansion. The town of Oka wanted to develop on a forest and burial ground the Mohawks considered to be sacred. As a result, a group of Mohawk Warriors set up a blockade. Horn-Miller was there because her mother, an Indigenous-rights activist, served as a negotiator between the two sides in the heated standoff. On September 26, 1970, the crisis ended, and the Canadian government started arresting people, however, some tried to run away. In the middle of the pandemonium, Horn-Miller was stabbed in the chest by a bayonet. A photograph from the incident depicts her on the ground in pain after the stabbing holding her younger sister. It is one of the most recognizable photos from the crisis.

Barely surviving the incident, Horn-Miller considered quitting her pursuit of athletics but decided to carry on. Her history in swimming led Horn-Miller to begin playing water-polo in high school. After graduating, she attended Carleton University and played for the water-polo team. In her time at Carleton, Horn-Miller won two Ontario championships and became the first woman in Carleton history named Female Athlete of the Year three times in a row. Horn-Miller also competed in the North American Indigenous Games, winning 20 gold medals over six years in a variety of sports.

Horn-Miller cracked the international stage in 1999, winning the gold medal with the women’s national team at the Pan-Am Games. The next year she was named co-captain of the first Canadian women’s Olympic water polo team, and competed in Sydney, Australia.

When the time came for Horn-Miller to step away from athletics in 2008, she jumped right into a broadcaster role for CBC during the Summer Olympics in Beijing. She also reported for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network for the 2010 games in Vancouver. Identifying the absence of Indigenous athletes, she became an ambassador to the Assembly of First Nations, working to implement a sport and wellness program for Indigenous youth across Canada. Horn-Miller is also a Nike N7 Ambassador, which is an initiative supporting Indigenous sports programs.

Horn-Miller has also been an advocate for the rights and safety of indigenous women and was even director of community engagement for the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. She continuously comments on the strength of Indigenous women, citing their mistreatment throughout the years. Horn-Miller also advocates against the “marry out, stay out” policy certain Indigenous communities have regarding intermarriage.

As aforementioned, Waneek Horn-Miller’s athletic career is nothing short of amazing – she was even inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2019 – but it is her career as an activist, seeking to inspire, seeking to stop injustice, that truly makes her an upstanding citizen and a Canadian everyone can look up to.