Canadian Olympian Horn-Miller wary of parallels between current global protests and protests from the Oka crisis


Protesters standing face to face with armed National Guard officers – this is a discordant but all too familiar scene taking place across the United States every night right now, as thousands of people descend into the streets to demand a systemic change following the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police.

Canadian Olympic athlete Waneek Horn-Miller has been there before and reminds Canadians of how real racism is in this country.

“Canadians are polite racists. They don’t want to recognize the existence of this privilege, “Horn-Miller told CBC Sports.

“When we talk about racism in Canada, it’s not like what we face in the United States. It’s more subtle. It’s indifference. It’s insensitivity. Or people who say they don’t see the color.

This summer marks 30 years since Horn-Miller spent 78 consecutive days on the resistance front lines during the Oka Crisis.

In the summer of 1990, the city of Oka, Quebec, planned to expand a golf course without consultation on a field that locals call The Pines. The land is sacred to the Mohawks, who opposed expansion because this is where their people are buried.

Horn-Miller, Mohawk of Kahnawake, Que., Was only 14 years old when she was responsible for cooking midnight meals and a take-out breakfast with the warriors in the bunkers. She vividly remembers the escalating tension between protesters and police – then the army was brought in.

“It was a horrible use of the military. I have met people on both sides who are still traumatized to this day, “said Horn-Miller.

“I would look at the barrels of hundreds of firearms. I can’t help but think about it while watching today. Thinking about the national guard sent. ”

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On the evening of September 26, the last night of the crisis, Horn-Miller chased him away from the area. She was trying to reach the media barricade that had been moved, fearing that if she did not reach the cameras in time, the soldiers could harm her.

They did it.

Horn-Miller was stabbed in the chest by a soldier’s bayonet while running her four-year-old sister Kaniehtiio Horn to safety. The bayonet missed its heart by an inch.

“I looked at one of the soldiers and said,” I know you. ” I pointed at her and put my four year old sister behind my back to protect her and that’s when I was hit in the chest, “recalls Horn-Miller, struggling against her tears.

“I was in such anger, pain, sadness and rage. I thought my body was going to explode. “

Horn-Miller received no medical treatment for 22 hours, was held prisoner on a bus at a makeshift military base.

Turning pain into motivation

It took Horn-Miller a long time to heal from the trauma she experienced in the summer of 1990 – she says the work continues today. She was young, confused and frustrated with Canada’s unequal and unfair feelings for her.

“Anger has been a fundamental part of me for a long time. She was killing me slowly, ”she said.

She used this pain to motivate her. A prolific swimmer, Horn-Miller excelled as a water polo player. She was fierce, grainy and tenacious – qualities that propelled her to the national team.

She was part of the team that won the gold medal at the Pan American Games in 1999 before becoming the first Canadian Mohawk woman to go to the Olympics in 2000.

Horn-Miller became Canada’s first Mohawk woman to go to the Olympics, as co-captain of the Canadian water polo team in Sydney in 2000. (Jeff De Booy / The Canadian Press)

Horn-Miller’s stardom soared when she was featured on the cover of Time magazine for being a sports heroine and indigenous activist. He drew unprecedented attention to the Canadian water polo program.

“I was their poster on the cover of Time. They got all the press attention because I’m a native and the Oka crisis. They were using me, but when I became a problem, I was kicked out, “she said.

Expelled from Canadian water polo team

The love story ended quickly. Horn-Miller started talking about the coach’s abuse of the program after the Olympics. The team failed to win a medal. Horn-Miller said the program was in disarray and needed an overhaul.

“There was this push in the team to clean up the house. The abuses started to go up and up and up, ”she said.

Sport Canada and Water Polo Canada have hired York Ethics in Sport officials to investigate – Horn-Miller said it found abuse, not a sexual abuse. Coaches have been laid off and a new scheme has been introduced.

“Canadians are polite racists. They don’t want to recognize that there is this privilege– Waneek Horn-Miller

Shortly after, Horn-Miller learned that she would no longer be part of the Water Polo Canada team due to “team cohesion” issues.

As co-captain of the team, Horn-Miller understood leadership from an Indigenous perspective, taught by family and ancestors, to do something and speak out against racial abuse.

She believes that many members of the Water Polo Canada community could not understand why it was so important to her.

“I remember sitting there at a final meeting, with one of my teammates and my uncle on one side of the room, and the rest of the water polo team and their lawyers were seated from there ‘other side,’ said Horn-Miller.

“I thought they hated me. They were so indifferent. This is what is so heartbreaking and lonely, and the worst of it is indifference. “

Horn-Miller is seen after being inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 2019. (Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press)

Horn-Miller will never again compete for Canada at an international water polo event and says racism has made a big difference.

“I remember my teammates said,” Do you call me racist? They were so angry. I do not think Canadians really understand racism and what it means to be racist, “she said.

“I endured a system”

Last year, Horn-Miller was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. She now admits that on the night of the awards ceremony in Toronto, she was afraid to attend.

“I’m up there with [skier] Alex Bilodeau and [NHL goalie] Marty Brodeur and the people who won. I’m here because I endured. I endured a system and got out of the other end successfully, “said Horn-Miller.

But she went there, celebrated alongside some of Canada’s greatest athletes.

A few months earlier at the initial announcement gala, Horn-Miller delivered a message that was greeted by hundreds of ovations. Even though she was honored, she couldn’t help but wonder where that support was before.

“I’m on stage and I said,” I don’t think people should leave sport damaged, injured and suffering. ” This is not sport, “she said.

“I looked at them when I got up and thought, where were you 20 years ago when I was deported? “

Now a mother of three, Horn-Miller understands how important it is to continue to highlight the injustices faced by minorities in Canada.

“Canada has long avoided difficult conversations. We must have difficult conversations. Our children deserve a future where they can realize their greatest potential and live in safety, no matter who they are. “


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