The House

'The terror was brought to us': Memories of Oka resurface as rail blockade crisis continues

Thirty years after she was wounded during the clash between soldiers and Mohawk activists at Oka, Que., ex-Olympian Waneek Horn-Miller reflects on how the country has changed — and how the rail blockade crisis could end badly.

Waneek Horn-Miller was 14 when she was injured in the standoff three decades ago

Waneek Horn-Miller holds on to her 4-year-old sister as the 78-day Oka Crisis comes to a chaotic end on Sept. 26, 1990. Thirty years later, Horn-Miller - a former Olympic athlete and a member of Canada's Sports Hall of Fame - is closely following the countrywide protests sparked by opposition to a natural gas pipeline on Wet'suwet'en traditional territory in British Columbia. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

In the summer of 1990, Waneek Horn-Miller was a teenager, standing with her activist mother and younger sister behind the barricades in Oka, Que.

The town was planning to expand a golf course onto land that Mohawks consider sacred. A standoff between the Indigenous community and police exploded into a 78-day crisis. A police officer was killed and dozens more were injured — including Horn-Miller, who was stabbed in the chest by a soldier's bayonet.

"I didn't get medical treatment for 22 hours," Horn-Miller told The House this week. "I was an unarmed 14-year-old, holding my little sister, when that happened."

Thirty years later, Horn-Miller is a former Olympic athlete and a member of Canada's Sports Hall of Fame. She has been closely following the countrywide protests sparked by opposition to a natural gas pipeline on Wet'suwet'en traditional territory in British Columbia.

Waneek Horn-Miller was 14 years old when she was injured on the frontlines of the Oka crisis in 1990. Thirty years later, she’s now closely following the Wet’suwet’en dispute — and reflecting on her experience decades ago. 8:20

Horn-Miller told The House she was looking over archival photos of the Oka crisis earlier this week.

"That reminder of just the hate that bubbled to the surface, this anger … we were being called terrorists when we weren't bringing terror to anybody," she said. "We weren't exerting any kind of aggression towards anybody else. The terror was being brought to us."

Using force would open a 'huge wound'

When asked whether Canadians have learned any lessons about the Crown-Indigenous relationship in the 30 years since Oka, Horn-Miller pointed to the way the media conversation has changed.

"I see a difference in a lot of the way the media is looking at the situation," she explained. "They're starting to peel back the layers of what is at the core of this issue … they're talking about hereditary chiefs versus the band council system, which is an imposed system, and how that isn't working, obviously, in this situation."

In light of the pressure being put on the federal government to swiftly end the rail blockades that have unfolded in recent weeks, Horn-Miller also warned authorities against taking the kind of action she witnessed in Oka.

Horn-Miller is warning against the use of force to remove rail blockades. (Barry Gray)

"That is always, always a fear," said Horn-Miller. "I can't imagine just how many miles we'll step back if they send in the Armed Forces.

"This would be a huge wound that would be wide open within this country, for so many people. Not just Indigenous people — for Canadians as well."

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