Kahentinetha (sometimes Kahn-Tineta) Horn, activist, civil servant (born 16 April 1940 in New York City, United States). Horn has dedicated her life to defending and promoting Kanyen'kehà:ka (Mohawk) sovereignty, history and heritage. She has been a spokesperson for Indigenous and women’s issues since the 1960s. Her continued activism and sometimes radical actions have made her a high-profile figure in the Indigenous rights movement.
Kahentinetha Horn’s name has been translated in multiple ways. Currently, two common translations are "she makes the grass wave" or “flying over the land” in the Kanyen’kehà:ka (Mohawk) language. According to Horn, the first born of six sisters, her name translates as “she is out front, before the others.” Horn is a member of the Mohawk Bear Clan of Kahnawá:ke, Quebec. She was born in Brooklyn, New York, where her father was an ironworker. The Kanyen’kehà:ka (Mohawk) were renowned for their skill in ironworking. The family later moved back to Kahnawá:ke.
Horn attended day school as a child. As a teenager, she worked during the day while studying economics at Sir George Williams University at night. Later in her life, she pursued a master’s degree at Carleton University. Her thesis was on Mohawk politics and ideologies. In the 1960s, Horn worked as a fashion model. She was crowned “Indian Princess of Canada” in August 1963 by the National Indian Council. As a public speaker, Horn attracted national attention to Indigenous causes. Some of these causes included control of land and resources, and treaty rights.
National Indian Council
In the early 1960s, Kahentinetha Horn became a director of the National Indian Council (NIC). This organization was created in 1961 to represent the political, economic and social issues of Status Indians (see Indian Status), Non-Status Indians and Métis (see Congress of Aboriginal Peoples). As a young woman, Horn was the target of abuse from other members of the NIC. Despite the ill-treatment she received from members of the NIC, and the racism and sexism she endured throughout her career and activism, Horn persisted in standing up for the rights of her people.
The NIC struggled to represent the differing views of Indigenous communities. In 1964, a council member exposed Horn’s criticism of the organization. That year, the NIC fired Horn from her post as a director. They also revoked her pageant title of “Indian Princess.” The NIC justified her dismissal on the grounds that she wrongly presented her own views publicly as those of the council.
The following year, the dispute received mainstream media attention. While Horn openly criticized and distanced herself from the NIC, she continued to fight for Indigenous causes. During the public hearings on the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism in 1965, Horn submitted a brief. In it, she expressed concern for Indigenous rights in a sovereign Quebec. Her speech attracted much attention.
Kahentinetha Horn’s activism began at a young age. As a teenager, she wrote letters to editors and to government departments and agencies advocating for Indigenous causes. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Horn was active in Indigenous civil rights movements. Horn founded and directed the Indian Legal Defence Committee from 1967 to 1971. This organization was established to help defend treaty rights and protect traditional ways of life. She also took part in and led numerous protests.
Horn has used diverse tactics to convey her message and has expressed views that some consider controversial. For example, she has expressed support for maintaining the reserve system.
Horn has participated in protests and was arrested on more than one occasion during demonstrations. She still advocated for Indigenous peoples using “law and order” to achieve their ends. In 1973, she began working as a civil servant at the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (see Federal Departments of Indigenous and Northern Affairs). There, she held various positions in the social, community and educational development policy sections.
Kanesatake Resistance (Oka Crisis)
Kahentinetha Horn and her daughters Waneek Horn-Miller and Kaniehtiio Horn were notable participants in the 1990 land dispute between the Kanyen'kehà:ka people and the town of Oka, Quebec. Horn worked as a negotiator in the Kanesatake Resistance, also known as the Oka Crisis. Her participation in negotiations was based upon her extensive knowledge of Kaianere'ko:wa (The Great Law), Canadian law and contemporary issues facing Indigenous peoples. At its height, 14-year-old Waneek was stabbed in the chest by a soldier with a bayonet. She had been trying to protect her four-year-old sister, Kaniehtiio. A photograph of the incident was published on the front page of newspapers and symbolized the intensity of the conflict.
Horn was fired from her role at the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development for her participation in the 78-day standoff. The Public Service Staff Relations Board ruled against her dismissal. She was reinstated in December 1992. She was also acquitted of charges that same year.
Kahentinetha Horn’s activism has also been related to issues in the women’s movement. In the 1960s, she was an early opponent of forced sterilization of Indigenous women in Canada. She advocated for the importance of women’s place in the home, as a means of passing on traditions to children. However, she also supported women’s independence. Horn promoted anti-colonial feminist discourse. This discourse values the historic role and importance of women in society. The matriarch of her family, Horn raised her four daughters — Ojistoh Horn, Waneek Horn-Miller, Kaniehtiio Horn and Kahente Horn-Miller — on her own. In the 1970s, Kahentinetha Horn had a son named Iohseres Horn-Miller. Iohseres passed away in January 1975 at the age of 1 year old.
Kahentinetha Horn has assisted Indigenous communities with title and land claims disputes. She has served as director of the Canadian Alliance in Solidarity with Native Peoples. This organization performs advocacy work with Indigenous peoples and provides education about Indigenous cultures. As publisher of the Mohawk Nation News, Horn highlighted events, issues and causes relevant to her community. She continues to advocate for Indigenous rights and causes.