Dialogue, Empathy, and the Hard Work of Indigenous Reconciliation: Icon, Olympian, and Activist Waneek Horn-Miller
At 14, Waneek Horn-Miller was stabbed by a Canadian soldier for protesting developments on Mohawk land. Ten years later, she rebounded, becoming the first Canadian Mohawk woman to compete in the Olympics—and grace the cover of TIME. Today, she shows how reconciliation is possible: through listening, humility, and tough conversations.
As Director of Community Engagement for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls—an initiative to eradicate violence against Indigenous women and give victims’ families a chance to heal, to be heard, to address a public that has historically ignored them—Horn-Miller’s ability to transform narratives proved invaluable. The hard work of changing history requires frank, sometimes uncomfortable debate; the ability to extend empathy despite differences; and, ultimately, a pledge to maintain hope. “Without hope,” she says, “there is no health.”
Hope is what helped Horn-Miller overcome the trauma of her near-death experience. It’s what motivated her to become an Olympic athlete. “I come from people who have gone through horrific things in history,” she says. “War, death, famine, genocide. How many times did my ancestors want to give up, lay down, and die? But they didn’t. They fought to continue. You have to keep going forward.” Horn-Miller is an emblem of this inextinguishable resilience—proof that it can be learned, and practiced, as diligently as a sport. As she says: “resilience is like a muscle and you need to work it out. It’s not something you can sit back and say, well, I’m resilient now. It’s a daily exercise that you have to work at.”