born 30 November 1975
Gold medallist in water polo at 1999 Pan American Games
Co-captain of Canada’s first Olympic women’s water polo team (2000)
Indigenous rights activist
Horn-Miller was born to Mohawk parents in Montreal, Quebec, in 1975 and was the second youngest of four daughters. Her mother, Kahn-Tineta Horn, was a prominent Indigenous-rights activist, and her father, George Miller, was an academic.Waneek’s youngest sister, Kaniehtiio Horn, is a Gemini Award-nominated actress. Her two older sisters are a doctor and professor, respectively.
Horn-Miller began swimming competitively at age seven and participated in meets from 1982 to 1997. To help her excel, Kahn-Tineta Horn, a single mother, moved the family to Ottawa, Ontario, across from a YMCA, where her daughter could swim regularly. Horn-Miller became the provincial champion for her age group in 1989.
Horn-Miller first received national media attention during the Oka Crisis in 1990. On 11 July 1990, Mohawk protesters clashed with Quebec provincial police over disputed land in Oka, Quebec. The town had decided to build condominiums and expand a golf course into a forest and burial land that the Mohawk considered sacred. A group of militants from the Kanesatake reserve, known as the Mohawk Warriors, set up a barrier to block a road that led to the golf course and ignored a court injunction to stand down.
The conflict, known as the Oka Crisis, continued for 78 days and received international attention. While her mother served as a negotiator, Horn-Miller spent three tense weeks behind the barrier. At age 14, she cooked the midnight meals and breakfasts and took them to the Warriors.
After a botched police raid and shootout resulted in the death of a corporal, the army erected barbed wire around the Mohawk encampment. Militants took refuge in a residential treatment centre for drugs and alcohol in Kanesatake.
On 26 September, after a standoff was negotiated, Horn-Miller left the centre, carrying her four-year-old sister, Kaniehtiio. In the middle of a raucous crowd, she was stabbed close to the heart by a soldier’s bayonet and narrowly survived. (Horn-Miller later launched a human rights complaint, but it proved unsuccessful because she could not identify the soldier.) Although she considered quitting sports, her resilience and perseverance won out.
DID YOU KNOW?
A year after she was injured during the Oka Crisis, Waneek Horn-Miller carried the flame in the 1991 Sacred Run Canada, which started in Victoria, British Columbia, and ended in Kahnawake, Quebec. In Sacred Runs, runners pass a torch between different Indigenous communities and nations to revive a sense of strength and unity. These Indigenous-led, cross-cultural runs encourage cultural diversity, tolerance and peace. In 1992, Horn-Miller participated in the Sacred Run North America, which began in Fairbanks, Alaska, and ended in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Horn-Miller began playing water polo during high school in 1989. She was a key player on the water polo team at Carleton University, where she studied political science (graduating in 2000). The team won the Ontario University Athletics championship in 1994–95 and 1995–96, and Horn-Miller became the first woman at Carleton to be named Female Athlete of the Year three consecutive times (1994–97). She was also named to the junior and senior All Star Canadian water polo teams from 1991 to 1999. During this period, Horn-Miller competed at the North American Indigenous Games as well, winning 20 gold medals between 1990 and 1997, including one in rifle shooting.
In 1999, Horn-Miller was part of the national women’s water polo team that won gold at the Pan American Games in Winnipeg. The following year, she was co-captain ofthe women’s water polo team at the 2000 Olympic Summer Games in Sydney, Australia, where the team finished fifth.
In the lead-up to the Olympic Games, Horn-Miller appeared nude on the cover of TIME magazine, holding a water polo ball across her chest. She posed for the magazine to promote her sport as well as a positive body image of strength and health for girls and women — a theme she would return to in her later career as an activist and a mentor.
Horn-Miller also helped Canada win a bronze medal in women’s water polo at the 2001 Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA) World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan. In 2006, she was selected as a torchbearer for the Olympic Winter Games in Turin, Italy. In 2015, she was assistant chef de mission (ambassador) for the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto.
Broadcaster and Activist
Horn-Miller retired as an athlete in 2008. That year, she worked as a CBC commentator at the Olympic Summer Games in Beijing, where her fiancé, Keith Morgan, was competing in judo. In 2010, she hostedcoverage of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN). Horn-Miller noticed that, despite the celebration of Indigenous art and culture at the Vancouver Games, there were few Indigenous Olympians. This prompted her to become IndigenACTION Ambassador to the Assembly of First Nations, where she worked to develop a National Indigenous Sport, Fitness and Wellness Strategy.In October 2011, Horn-Miller launched a fitness and healthy-eating initiative with the APTN. As part of WE Day in 2014, hosted by WE Charity in Toronto, Horn-Miller spoke to youth from more than 1,000 schools across North America, promoting positive social change in Indigenous communities in Canada.
In February 2017, Horn-Miller became the director of community engagement for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. She stepped down in August of that year, about a month after commissioner Marilyn Poitras resigned, amid growing concerns about the inquiry from academics and activists.
Horn-Miller has also served as an ambassador for Nike N7, which supports Indigenous youth sports programs, and for Manitobah Mukluks, an Indigenous-owned company.
Their relationship is at the heart of a legal battle launched by Horn-Miller and 15 other plaintiffs against the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake. In 2010, Horn-Miller began work building a house in Kahnawake when she was pregnant with her first child. She and Morgan expected to move into the new house in August. However, about 60 neighbours questioned their right to live on the reserve and, the same year, eviction notices were sent to other interracial couples. A 1981 council law bans any Indigenous band member with a non-Indigenous spouse from living on its territory. (See Indigenous Rights in Canada.) Although Horn-Miller and her family lived in Ottawa while Morgan finished his residency in family medicine, they wanted to return to Kahnawake.
In 2014, Horn-Miller and six other people sued the council and challenged the law. They were joined by nine other plaintiffs in 2015. The case was heard in Quebec Superior Court in 2017. In April 2018, Quebec Superior Court Justice Thomas Davis ruled that the “Marry Out, Get Out” provision of the Kahnawake membership law violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as it discriminated against Kahnawake members on the basis of civil and family status. He also awarded a total of $35,000 in moral damages, which was to be divided between seven plaintiffs. The judgment allowed some autonomy for the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake to address the situation, and left open the possibility of finding another way to help protect language, culture and land on the Kahnawake reserve. “Perhaps going forward, the [council] should consider placing more importance on that commitment [to language and culture] than on the origins of one’s spouse,” wrote Davis. Grand Chief Joe Norton and the council stated that they would review the decision, but that “we maintain the position that matters that are so integral to our identity have no business in outside courts.”
- Female Athlete of the Year, Carleton University (1994–97)
- Tom Longboat Award (1999)
- Most Valuable Player Award, Canadian Senior Women’s Water Polo National Championships (1999)
- Gold Medal, Women’s Water Polo, Pan American Games (1999)
- Youth Award, National Aboriginal Achievement Awards (2000)
- DAREarts Cultural Award (2015)
- Most Influential Women, Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (2015)