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Mohawk Olympian wants another shot at a medal


Paul Barnsley, Windspeaker Staff Writer, Montreal







Page 31

Waneek Horn-Miller plans to be in Athens in 2004.

After the Canadian water polo team she captained finished fifth at the Sidney Olympics last year, the 25-year-old Kahnawake member is still seeking an Olympic medal, preferably of the gold variety.

While most people would be delighted to merely participate in an Olympic Games, Horn-Miller sees the performance in Sydney as a "disappointment."

"I wanted a medal," she stated, bluntly.

She said she'll compete as a swimmer in next summer's North American Indigenous Games, scheduled for Winnipeg, and then turn her attention back to water polo for the next games in Athens, Greece.

On hand at downtown Montreal's Berri Square to participate in the First Peoples' Festival on June 17, Horn-Miller showed she's very comfortable dealing with the press. After enduring the physically demanding experience of standing still with her arms stretched out to the side for half-an-hour, wearing a canvas shirt while painters brushed on multi-colored images-a northern Quebec Indigenous custom -she dutifully met with reporters and engaged in a poised, relaxed and thoughtful conversation about her past and future life as an Olympian.

Horn-Miller said she was happy to participate in the festival because it promotes harmony between Native and non-Native people. The daughter of Kahn-Tineta Horn, a prominent Mohawk activist during the confrontation at Oka, is well aware of the tensions that continue to exist between the French-Canadian majority and her people, but she's doing her part to break down those tensions by demolishing harmful stereotypes.

"It's great that we can exhibit our culture in a non-political sense, although everything we do is political in some way, I guess," she said. "But this is all about education, about getting rid of the ignorance."

Brushing aside questions of a political nature at first, the political science grad who posed for a provocative cover shot for Time magazine last summer, nonetheless, proved she couldn't just do "the interview" as most athletes would.

"I was the only Aboriginal person competing in any sport for Canada in Sydney," she said. "I'm not proud of that; I find it disturbing. I'm saddened by it."

When not preparing for the immediate next step in her sport -the water polo world championships to be held in Japan this summer-Horn-Miller said she's doing everything she can to encourage Native athletes to follow in her footsteps. She does that by embracing her status as a valued role model and by using her prominence as an Olympic athlete to break down barriers in the mainstream world that prevent Native people from reaching their potential.

"A lot of Aboriginal athletes have so much talent but they never get to the next level because of stereotypes or other things," she said. "I want to help change that. My involvement in the Olympics changed my life. It's affecting other people as well. There's something about meeting an Olympic athlete. So when kids meet a Native Olympian, it's something that will stick in their mind."

She told stories of visiting schools to meet wide-eyed children who asked charming and funny questions about kangaroos and other subjects to make the point that she believes role models can have a huge effect on the next generation. It's a role she willingly accepts but certainly doesn't claim all for herself.

"We are all role models. Whether it be positive or negative is up to you. But if you've lived a harsh life and then cleaned yourself up, that's success. You're a role model."

The outside shooter who said her style of play is based on power rather than finesse, said the highlight of her Sydney experience was meeting Aborigine track star Cathy Freeman, the gold medalist in the 400 m sprint.

"It was awesome," Horn-Miller said. "I met her just before she lit the torch. We had a game that night so we couldn't go to the opening. But I ran up to her and said, 'Hi, I'm an Aboriginal athlete from Canada. I wish you the best f luck.'"

As the top medal prospect for the host country, Freeman was under a lot of pressure. She was the darling of the Australian mainstream and a very powerful symbol for her own people. When she won the gold medal final it was one of the most truly dramatic and memorable moments of the games.

"I filmed it. It was incredible. It redeemed my Olympics to be there and see it," Horn-Miller said. "I was so proud of her."