'When one Indigenous person achieves, we all succeed': Olympian Waneek Horn-Miller to join sports hall of fame

Waneek Horn-Miller from Kahnawake, Que., is being inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame this year, along with Métis Paralympian Colette Bourgonje.

Former water polo athlete is 1 of 2 Indigenous women among Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame 2019 inductees

Wanneek Horn-Miller is among the athletes to be inducted to the Canada's Sports Hall of Fame in 2019. (Canada's Sports Hall of Fame)

For Waneek Horn-Miller, receiving Canada's highest sporting honour is a reminder of the work needed to improve opportunities for Indigenous youth in sport.

She's the first Mohawk woman to compete in an Olympic Games, and will be the first water polo player to be inducted to Canada's Sports Hall of Fame this fall.

"It's a huge honour," said Horn-Miller, who is from Kahnawake, Que., but now resides in Ottawa.

"I love my sport and it's great to represent it in the Hall of Fame."

Indigenous members of Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

Alex Decoteau (Athletics – Running) - inducted in 2015
Shirley Firth (Cross Country Skiing) – inducted in 2015
Sharon Firth (Cross Country Skiing) – inducted in 2015
Bill Isaacs (Lacrosse) – inducted in 2015
Joe Keeper (Athletics – Running) – inducted in 2015
Wilton Littlechild (Indigenous Peoples' Sports – Builder) – inducted in 2018
Tom Longboat (Athletics – Running) – inducted in 1955
Harry Xul-si-malt Manson (Soccer) – inducted in 2015
Alwyn Morris (Canoe/Kayak) – inducted in 2000
Gaylord Powless (Lacrosse) – inducted in 2017
Bryan Trottier (Ice Hockey) – inducted in 2016

But she said the recognition comes with a sense of discomfort and stress. Out of the current 665 members of Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, only 11 are Indigenous. She is one of of two Indigenous women among the eight athletes being inducted this year.

"I know there are so many Indigenous athletes out there that deserve recognition but also some who didn't get the same opportunities as I did," said Horn-Miller.

"I just feel like they're all there with me and I'd like to accept this on behalf of all them."

Horn-Miller won a gold medal at the 1999 Pan American Games and co-captained the first Canadian women's water polo team in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.

"When I was an athlete I was controversial," she said.

"How I was raised in our culture, you're supposed to do something if you see something wrong. You need to make it better."

Not only did she pose nude on the cover of Time magazine prior to the 2000 Olympics, she said her team took stances on issues that weren't popular, including asking for an external investigation into the sport in Canada and the treatment of athletes.

Waneek Horn-Miller competed for Canada with the water polo team at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. (Jeff De Booy/The Canadian Press)

She said her opinions on certain issues ended her water polo career earlier than she would have liked. She retired as an athlete in 2008.

"I could have gone to two or three more Olympics if I never said anything, but at whose expense would I have achieved? I couldn't live with myself.

"It doesn't matter if you're a gold medallist or are playing intramurals, you should never leave sport hurt and damaged. It should be a place of empowerment and that's what I felt wasn't happening."

Today, she continues working to empower Indigenous communities and youth through sport.

"When one Indigenous person achieves, we all succeed," said Horn-Miller.

"Whether you like it or not, you're opening people's eyes to who we are as Indigenous peoples."

And for her, getting to the Olympics gave her that opportunity.

"As Indigenous people, it's really important that whatever success we have, we use it to support the entire community. That's what I tell kids all the time."

Canada Sports Hall of Fame class of 2019 inductees

5 years ago
Duration 2:42
Featured VideoOn Thursday in Calgary the Canada Sports Hall of Fame introduced the 2019 class of inductees.

Métis Paralympic athlete also to be inducted

Métis athlete Colette Bourgonje is also among the group of eight being inducted this year.

"There's an amazing group being inducted and I'm very honoured to be with them," she said.

Colette Bourgonje is the only female in Canada to compete in both Summer and Winter Paralympic Games. (Canada's Sports Hall of Fame)

Bourgonje, from Saskatchewan, is a 10-time Paralympian in para nordic skiing and wheelchair racing. She is the only woman in Canada to have competed in both summer and winter Paralympic Games, and the first to medal in dual events.

She retired in 2014, and now coaches.

"I loved to compete and when I reflect back, it was a wonderful journey that I learned a lot from," said Bourgonje.

The 2019 induction festival takes place Oct. 23 in Toronto.


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.