You may recognize Waneek Horn Miller from the Olympics or TV, but if you haven’t heard her story, keep reading…
Waneek Horn Miller is a Mohawk, survivor, athlete, advocate and ambassador. Her life has traced a powerful journey from traumatized youth to star Olympic athlete to one of the most articulate and vibrant voices in Canada today. A model of perseverance, good-natured humor, and wisdom, Horn-Miller inspires others to follow their own dreams, fight for their heritage, and achieve their full potential in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
The Oka Crisis
It was the summer of 1990 when a land dispute between Mohawks and the town of Oka Quebec erupted into a violent conflict. The crisis developed from the town’s developing plans to expand a golf course and residential development onto land which had traditionally been used by Mohawk people. The area included a burial ground, marked with standing tomb stones, which prompted a land claim for the sacred grove near Kanesatake.
As courts decided that construction would proceed, protests quickly evolved into a barricade of the area and Mohawks were joined by Aboriginal people from across the country in solidarity of their blockade. Eventually the tensions escalated to military involvement and a violent standoff.
At the height of the crisis, and at the age of 14, Waneek Horn Miller was stabbed in the chest by a soldier wielding a bayonet. She had been protecting her four-year-old sister while in the fray of the 78-day standoff between Mohawks and the Canadian military.
“A doctor later told me, ‘had it been one millimetre each way, the bayonet would have sunk through your heart,’” Horn-Miller said.
After being stabbed during the standoff, Waneek faced an uphill battle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This near-death experience marked a turning point in her life and instead of recoiling; she came back stronger than ever. Less than a year after her stabbing, she ran across Canada in the Sacred Run from Victoria, BC to Kanawake, QC and followed it one year later by running from Fairbanks, Alaska to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Many of the people that went through the Oka Crisis tried to deal with the trauma by self-medicated themselves with drugs and alcohol. My form of self-medication became my sport. It consumed me.”And Waneek has her mom to thank for it. “When we were young, my mom, a single parent, made the decision not to allow alcohol into her home and she put us (four daughters) into sports instead…that decision really impacted my life.”
A Life in Sport
Another turning point in Waneek’s life came earlier when she watched the the 84 Olympics with fellow Mohawk community member Alwyn Morris representing Canada as a gold medal contender in the sport of kayaking.
“He got on the podium, bent down, got his gold medal draped around his neck and as he straightened back up, he pulled an eagle feather out from behind himself and raised it up,” she said, her smile widening. “In my eight-year-old mind I had somehow managed to convince myself that he was doing it only for me. Seeing a guy from my community doing that made me realize that I can be the best in the world.” Horn-Miller then turned to her mom and declared that she too wanted to go to the Olympics.
“Rather than laughing it off as a child’s fantasy, my mother very seriously told me ‘if that is what you want, I will do everything in my power to make that happen.’” With the support of her mother, Horn-Miller began training in waterpolo.
She went on to join the ranks of the all-star Canadian water polo team with whom she earned a gold medal in the 1999 Pan American Games. In 2000, she appeared on the cover of TIME magazine as co-captain of Canada’s Olympic women’s water polo team and in 2006 she was made a torchbearer for Canada’s Winter Olympics.
Now an icon for sport in Canada, Horn-Miller went on to host a fitness and healthy-eating TV series called Working It Out Together, which followed six Canadians on their pursuit of better health. She became the Coordinator of the First People’s House at McGill University and travelled internationally as an expert motivational speaker.
Now she has translated those skills and passions into a career in the outdoor industry where she advocates for authentic brands that connect with her ideals of healthy living and high performance. Waneek’s ability to achieve and convey excellence has made her an inspiring motivational speaker and Brand Champion for organizations such as Free the Children and companies like Nike and us!