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Waneek Horn-Miller inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame
(Photo : CBC Sports)

(October 24, 2019 – Ottawa, ON) - Waneek Horn-Miller made history last night by becoming the first water polo player to be inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. The Canadian sports community gathered at the Metro Convention Center in Toronto to honour star athletes, including Alexandre Bilodeau, Martin Brodeur and Jayna Hefford. Horn-Miller accepted this distinction with an inspirational speech on opportunity and accessibility for all.

"This honour came over me like sort of a realization similar to other important moments in my career. I remember getting to the Olympics, being there for my first game and walking on the deck and playing. After everything I've been through, this induction just accentuated the fact that I had the opportunity to do that, to play water polo. I remember those times when I wanted to give up, and I would think about the people who didn't get the opportunities, who aren't there at that moment in the pool. It also represents the gravity of the accomplishment, and of course, it's not just about me, part of it is my teammates. It also makes me excited to see what we can accomplish in the future .”

A member of the Kahnawake Mohawk Nation in Quebec, Horn-Miller, has been a long-time advocate for Indigenous rights. When she was 14, she found herself in the middle of the Oka crisis, where she was stabbed while participating in a protest against real estate development on sacred lands. The Oka crisis changed Waneek’s perspective on life, and she became determined to pursue her athletic dreams. She funnelled her energy and competitive instinct into water polo.

"My mom understood way before we were born; being indigenous in Canada was not stress-free, you're born into a very hyper political identity. She wanted to make sure that no matter how high we pushed and how far we pushed it, we could get there. But we needed a place to put the stress, and we needed a way to focus, we need to learn skills to get us through. And that is what sport did for me. So at the times when I was going through post traumatic stress disorder, I was able to go back to water polo and put all of that into my sport. I put all my frustration, anger and sadness into the practices into the playing and then also to go back to a team that loves me."

As an athlete, Horn-Miller was known as a fighter in the pool: she overcame barriers and became a sporting pioneer on many levels. She co-captained the Canadian team at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. Horn-Miller and the Canadian Women’s Water Polo Team made history there when women’s water polo was finally added to the Olympic program. The team finished 5th. She was the first Mohawk woman in Canada to compete in the Olympic Games.

One of Waneek's best memories from the Olympics happened during the first game against Russia. “I looked up into the crowd and saw my mom crying. My first thought was, ‘oh, my God; someone was mean to my mom.’ After the game, I ran up to see her, and by that time I got there, she wasn't crying anymore. So, I'm like, ‘why are you crying?’ And she says, ‘When you were eight years old, and you first said you wanted to go to the Olympics, I promised you that I would do whatever it took to help you and that I would be there for you. When you walked out and you were achieving your goal, I remembered all the times when I almost couldn't keep my promise—when we didn't have food, didn't have heat. There were moments when I almost had to say that I can't do it. When you walked out, I was proud of myself as a mom.’ That moment with my mom has to be the best experience. The best memory of the Olympics is that I helped my mom feel proud of herself.”

Twenty years later, the Canadian Women’s Water Polo Team is getting set to return to the Olympics Games. Waneek Horn-Miller is excited to see this generation of players live their Olympic dream at Tokyo 2020.

"When you're in a sport like water polo or any sport where it's a team sport, diversity is a strength, not a weakness, and you need diverse women who think differently rather than all the same. I think that what we're able to accomplish as a team making it to the Olympics that first time is a representation of how diversity can be embraced, as long as you have a clear goal and a game plan. I think that we were just sort of the beginning of what could happen."

Horn-Miller is hoping her induction will encourage more young girls to take up the sport, which she says changed her life.

I would love to see more kids playing water polo because it is such an odd and unique sport. I fell in love with it. I would love to see a growth in water polo across the country. I would love to see hundreds if not thousands of more young people playing water polo. That's what I want. You know, in high schools, I see other countries around the world and how they do it. And it's going to take us seeing sport not as a pastime, but as a fundamental building block of young Canadians.”

In the near future, the new inductee says she will continue to work towards her dreams, and hopes to make a difference in her world today.

"I will continue to use my voice as much as I can, or the next generation will grow up with the same social issues. I think that Canada needs a plan, especially in the indigenous communities. We need to advocate and push for it on a political level. Looking back on the last 19 years, the path I've taken has been exciting, but controversial and hard, you know, the stance I took with water polo, back when I was just in my 20s and then feeling like the water polo community didn't want me anymore. At that time, those issues needed to be addressed, but now coming back to Water polo Canada it feels full circle. I think perhaps maybe I made it a better place."



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