Waneek Horn-Miller remembers the Oka Crisis

During the Oka Crisis in 1990, when Waneek Horn-Miller was only fourteen years old, she was stabbed by a Canadian soldier and nearly lost her life. This event was a turning point in her life. On Tuesday, Nov. 22, Horn-Miller spoke at Mount Allison about her memory of the crisis and how it affected her and her community.

Horn-Miller is part of the Mohawk community from the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory near Montreal. She currently works with Indigenous youth to promote higher education and build self-esteem by highlighting the balance between education and sport. She was the Assistant Chef de mission for Team Canada at the 2015 Pan Am Games. She is also an ambassador for Manitobah Mukluks, which is an Indigenous-owned company that sells moccasins and mukluks.

For Horn-Miller, the dream of going to the Olympics began at the age of seven. She was inspired by Alwyn Morris’s gold-medal win in the K-2 1000m kayak sprint at the 1984 Olympics. Seeing a member of her community become an Olympic champion sparked in Horn-Miller a strong desire to go to the Olympics. From that moment on, she overcame several challenges and trained every day to get there at swimming and running. Among the many obstacles she faced was the Oka Crisis.

The Oka Crisis began in July 1990 as a land dispute between the Kahnawake First Nation and the town of Oka over Mohawk territory. Town officials wanted to expand a golf course and build condominiums, which were to extend into the reserve and onto Mohawk burial ground.

To stop this development, Mohawk protesters set up barricades, blocking road access to the area. When injunctions to remove these barricades were ignored, the town of Oka called on the Quebec provincial police (SQ) to intervene. The SQ was unsuccessful in resolving the dispute, so the military became involved as well.

After 78 days, the standoff between the Mohawk Warriors and the military came to an end with the cancellation of the golf course expansion.

On the last day of the standoff, while Horn-Miller was carrying her four-year-old sister, a soldier stabbed her close to the heart.

After this near-death experience, Horn-Miller considered quitting sport, but said she kept going because of something her mother told her: “I never raised you to be anybody’s victim.”

Horn-Miller went on to compete in the 1999 Pan Am games and the 2000 Olympics on the women’s water polo team. She said this achievement was important for her because it proved that against all odds, there is a space in the sports world for Indigenous people.

For Horn-Miller and her community, the Oka crisis was an awakening.

“It was an awakening for Indigenous people to come together and start fighting, and start going after being recognized as partners and as founders of this land,” she said. She added that the Oka Crisis was also eye-opening for non-Indigenous people because it was the first time many had even heard of a conflict over disputed land.

Horn-Miller said that finding a way to move past her trauma – both of her injury of the mistreatment of Indigenous peoples throughout history – has been an important learning process.

To conclude the talk, Horn-Miller discussed reconciliation.

“Reconciliation isn’t just about the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, it’s about a plan forward,” Horn-Miller said.

For Horn-Miller, the understanding of reconciliation came from her experience with sport, finding balance with her non-Indigenous team members and working towards a common goal. Horn-Miller ended her speech by urging us to define reconciliation for ourselves, and with the future generation in mind, to think about “the kind of country we want to create.”

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