Transcript of Kahentinetha Horn: Nothing but the Truth – Part 1
Théo Martin: This podcast contains historical language and content that some listeners may consider offensive. This includes language used to refer to racial, ethnic and cultural groups. Items in the collection, their content and their descriptions reflect the time period when they were created and the views of their creators.
Josée Arnold (JA): Welcome to “Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.” I’m your host, Josée Arnold. Join us as we showcase treasures from our vaults; guide you through our many services; and introduce you to the people who acquire, safeguard and make known Canada’s documentary heritage.
Madeleine Trudeau (MT): So where you’re finding yourself right now is the “art vault,” we call it informally, here at Library and Archives, but it’s actually not the only place we store art. It’s basically just the place where larger art gets stored.
JA: Imagine coming in to visit Library and Archives Canada (LAC) and being presented with material from your entire life, triggering happy memories and difficult ones, bringing back recollections of a life filled with purpose and adventure. In early 2020, we invited Kahentinetha Horn and her daughter Waneek Horn-Miller to come to LAC for a visit. As we hosted them, we were thrilled to witness and record their reactions to the material in the LAC collection related to Kahentinetha’s fascinating life. They were seeing many of these items for the very first time.
In preparation for the visit, we pulled together a vast amount of material related to Kahentinetha’s life: letters, photographs, audiovisual material and much more. We started off with a tour of Vault 34, or as staff call it, the “art vault,” deep in the belly of LAC’s Preservation Centre. LAC curator Madeleine Trudeau lovingly showed us around, showcasing some of the works that she and LAC archivist Elizabeth Montour selected to show Kahentinetha and Waneek. If you pick up on a vibe of familiarity, it’s because Elizabeth happens to be Kahentinetha’s first cousin!
MT: So, you also see that there’s things like globes and other types of larger objects here because it’s basically a space designed to store large items, and you can tell that by looking at the high, high ceilings and the fact that we came in through those big double doors. And that all down to the very, very back of this room, all of these big racks that go right to the ceiling from the floor that you can pull out are all hung with different paintings and other objects, coats of arms, things like that, but just very large items.
So, welcome. And Liz had selected a few things from the collection that we thought it would be wonderful to show you, so some, quite a variety of things. We have some 19th-century drawings, or watercolours I should say, watercolour drawings…
JA: The group immediately started to analyze items from the collection related to their home of Kahnawake, and a healthy debate ensued!
Waneek Horn-Miller (WHM): Look at the church, right?
Kahentinetha Horn (KH): Yeah, I see the church, yeah.
WHM: This would be?
Elizabeth Montour (EM): But this tower!
KH: This is the Band Office.
WHM: No. Seriously, that’s probably where it is right now, right? That looks like a mill.
WHM: What year was it? What years was this?
MT: These are from 1848. And you know it’s really funny, because the conversation you’re having now is actually one of the reasons why the decision was made to collect documentary art at the very beginning of the Library and Archives history. It’s actually this way of seeing how places looked in our past and comparing them to our present knowledge of them. So these are really great examples because this artist, James D. Duncan, back in the day, he was kind of like at the start of establishment art in Montréal, and he sort of went around and made these types of images, and these were kind of our earliest images of early colonial Canada.
So it’s just funny listening to you guys, because you’re able to compare, like the real...
WHM: Where it is and...
MT: How it looks now with... and this is exactly, kind of, not the only reason we collect these drawings, because they’re beautiful in themselves...
KH: You know what? That’s still there. That’s still there.
EM: Looking east.
WHM: Is this looking east?
EM: So this is east this way, so you should be looking at the church.
WHM: Is this the back of the church?
KH: There used to be...
EM: It’s the side here.
KH: This is the road, you know, what we call...
EM: The seaway runs through it.
WHM: Oh! Behind the whole thing. Behind all of the...
EM: I’m trying to place this tower, though.
KH: It’s not there.
EM: I know, but trying to imagine where it could be, on Twin Hills, maybe?
KH: Maybe. Yes, maybe.
EM: We should ask the people that live there if there’s a tower.
JA: Madeleine continued the tour by showcasing some of the more contemporary works from LAC’s collection.
MT: So I just wanted to show you this Jane Ash Poitras. So this is, she’s a Cree artist, based in Calgary, and she has been doing this whole series on residential schools. So I just wanted to show you. I think it’s kind of nice that Liz had chosen some very historical pictures at the start, and then we saw these contemporary, especially by women artists, as a contrast, because I hope that’s showing the kind of direction that we’re trying to take with the collection in terms of the way that we’ve evolved a little bit. And we’ve got colonial-type 1848 things, but then we’ve also got things from 2004 like these types of works of art by women artists who are trying to convey these important messages.
So she’s done more than one of these works in this series, and she works with collage for this series.
KH: It’s nice!
MT: It’s very moving.
KH: It is!
MT: I guess before we leave this vault, we should go back and see one of the items Liz particularly wanted you to see, which is something you can wear. It’s something you can wear, and something that dates back to the sixties. So we’re going all the way back to this, to the back of this vault.
Remember this, Liz?
WHM: Oh my God, Mom!
MT: So Liz really wanted you to see this, to throw back the sixties.
WHM: [laughing] It’s a dress! Mom!
EM: Have you ever seen that? Anybody wear that before? No?
KH: But I met him [Pierre Trudeau] in the sixties.
WHM : Yeah, I know.
MT: So this is from 1968, and this was not during the actual political campaign. This was during the Liberal leadership campaign. And…
WHM: And somebody wore it.
MT: Somebody wore it, one of the campaign workers. And this is this great intersection of art and fashion, really, where you’re seeing... I mean, this happened in other cases as well. You could quickly make up these paper dresses with these images. So we have here a black-and-white photograph of Pierre Trudeau, young Pierre Trudeau! And this is the kind of thing that his campaign workers would be wearing, these little mod dresses from the era.
JA: As Kahentinetha hinted at, she had more than a passing acquaintance with Pierre Elliott Trudeau. One day, Kahentinetha was driving her car eastbound down Wellington directly in front of Parliament, when a silver limousine pulled up beside her, and the back window rolled down. Pierre Trudeau, prime minister at the time, poked his head out and said, “Why don’t you come to my house for a swim? I’ll call you tomorrow.” Sure enough, he called the next day and invited Kahentinetha and her young family for a swim at 24 Sussex Drive. After the visit, Trudeau sent her a letter and included a personal “PS” at the bottom.
Male voice: “It was really nice having you and your daughters over for a swim. I was terribly impressed by their healthy looks and lack of fear. I hope we will see them again soon.”
JA: He wasn’t the only prime minister she was acquainted with.
KH: And I used to meet Brian Mulroney too. But I don’t want to say more than that.
WHM: And that’s a cool thing, because at that time… I mean, she also, like, knew Leonard Cohen, you know, people like that. In Montréal...
KH: He was shorter, he was about this tall.
JA: Even at a young age, Kahentinetha wasn’t afraid of engaging with and taking on influential figures of the era. At a Montréal party in the 1960s, Kahentinetha found herself in the company of Leonard Cohen. While most people would have been happy to sit back and listen to what the poet and novelist had to say without question, Kahentinetha had some strong words for him. She found his depiction of Mohawk women in his celebrated novel
Beautiful Losers to be crude and offensive, and told him that to his face. Feeling uncomfortable, he left shortly after, and it’s interesting to note that he stopped promoting his book around that time. And in fact it was the last novel he wrote before pursuing a musical career. Despite this interaction, Kahentinetha went on to appreciate Cohen’s music and still does to this day.
WHM: But it was a time when the circles were small, people, you know, you hung out with different kinds of people. And it was kind of cool. Also the sixties were, like, a little bit more radical era. Right?
KH: Very radical, actually. I don’t know, I just felt that people were more committed at that time than they are today. We understood the issues a lot better at that time.
WHM: She used to get criticized a lot because, number one, she was a woman. And you were young and you wanted a voice, and in Kahnawake it was like, you know you had to, like, they were starting to… like the real male “chauvinisty” way of doing things was seeping into our culture. And so a young woman with a voice was considered almost like… you were celebrated and then you suddenly weren’t celebrated, right?
KH: Well, I was celebrated if I didn’t say anything.
WHM: Yeah. If you were just...
KH: If they were there to take a picture of me.
But then, after a while, if I did say something, they’d twist it around. So it came to the point where I wouldn’t talk to the media, I would only write it down. And I would say, “This is my message.”
WHM: And this is why you have a lot of her stuff in the archives!
KH: That’s right!
WHM: My sister, who’s a professor at Carleton, came and did a whole… found a lot of your letters, right?
WHM: Did you see that she did an exhibition at Carleton?
Tom Thompson (TT): Liz and I went too.
WHM: Yeah, it was really cool, eh?
EM: I wasn’t sure if the letters came from here.
WHM: They came from here, yeah. She actually got them from here, and she did the whole thing, curated that. So that was pretty cool.
WHM: Pretty cool. Well, good thing, good thing you wrote it all down!
KH: I did. I did because I lived through it, I lived through the whole thing. We’re going back to the fifties, the sixties, and then all those people, a lot of them are gone. I’m still around, I still have a memory of it.
And I’m glad to see this because I’m reminded of the things that I didn’t remember, and now I do remember. Especially, you know, knowing him, and knowing Mulroney and all. And I ended up in the Department of Indian Affairs when Mulroney was the prime minister. I had met him before at the... some club in...
WHM: Tennis. Yeah, tennis club.
KH: The Royal something Tennis Club...
WHM: The Mount Royal Tennis Club.
KH: Mount Royal Tennis Club. That was in Westmount. That’s where I met him. And I met him again, I was pregnant with my youngest daughter. It was at Parliament, there was some “do” there, and I was standing there. And he comes along, and he’s shaking hands with everybody, and he recognizes me, he says: “Oh, wow.” He says, “I remember you from a long time ago.” And he says, “You were famous and I was a nobody!” And I said, “And now you’re famous and I’m a nobody!”
KH: He couldn’t stop laughing. He thought that was pretty funny. [laughing] And then I ended up working for him…
WHM: Oh, for Indian Affairs.
KH: …Writing stuff, you know, speeches and stuff like that. They used to run to me and say, “We need something! Give it to us! You have five minutes to write something on this issue!” That’s what I was there for.
Because I told them, when I worked at Indian Affairs, first thing is that I will never lie to my people, and I will never lie to the Department. I will tell you exactly what the situation is. I will speak on behalf of them. And I said those are the conditions of why I will work here. And they accepted that.
JA: Kahentinetha Horn, whose name means “flying over the land,” was born on April 16, 1940, in Brooklyn, New York. She is a member of the Spitting Bear Clan. Kahentinetha’s father, Joe Assennatienton, was an iron worker who travelled where the work was. The Kanienken:haka, or Mohawk people, were recognized for their courage and skill in iron work, in particular high steel rigging, and are responsible for building many of the great skyscrapers of Manhattan and other cities across the continent. The working conditions were very dangerous. There were no safety measures and protocols in place like there are today. They often worked late into the night with insufficient lighting. Accidents were so common that the women of Kahnawake forbade their husbands from all working on the same job, to ensure that the male population of Kahnawake was not decimated, leaving a town of widows and children. One night, Joseph Horn, Kahentinetha’s father, was working on a bridge between Rouses Point, New York, and Alburgh, Vermont. It was dark, and the men had decided to stop work for the night, even though they had not been dismissed. As they descended from the bridge, Joe slipped and fell to his death. This left his wife Margaret on her own to care and provide for their nine children, including 13-year-old Kahentinetha. There were no programs to provide financial support to widows and their children at that time. It wasn’t long before Kahentinetha was taking jobs in Montréal to help support her siblings, while also attending Sir George Williams University in the evening to further her education.
JA: After our tour of the art vault, we headed up to the 5th floor of the Gatineau Preservation Centre. You might be surprised to learn that we have a small theatre discreetly tucked away on the 5th floor, where staff and visitors can view some of the rare items from LAC’s film, video and sound collection. We wanted to show Kahentinetha and Waneek some film material that we thought they would find interesting.
TT: We got a little surprise for Waneek maybe too…
KH: Oh! You got all the stuff on her! I told her one day…
WHM: She says, “One day, when you’re my age, they’ll be asking you to go to the archives!”
JA: We started off with some silent black-and-white footage of Kahentinetha and Waneek’s hometown of Kahnawake, Quebec.
WHM: All right. Oh, cool. So silent...
KH: That goes back to the fifties.
KH: That’s that old house on the market.
WHM: On the highway! On the highway! Still there.
KH: That’s my aunt Annie’s house. Yeah!
WHM: Oh... Wait! Is that you?
KH: No. And that’s Fishy’s house.
WHM: Oh! Oh, hey!
KH: That’s the Protestant, United Church. It changed names.
WHM: Indian Agency. Holy!
KH: Yes, and that was right across from where the old RCMP headquarters was.
WHM: Chief Poking Fire! Yeah!
KH: And we lived across from there for a long time, yeah.
WHM: Oh, look! Oh, Mom! Look at all the interchangeable clothes for your doll!
WHM: Oh my gosh!
JA: In August 1963, Kahentinetha was crowned “Indian Princess of Canada” by the National Indian Council. Apparently, this honour included the production of a doll meant to look just like her. Kahentinetha and Waneek found this very amusing!
KH: That was here. Can you stop it for a moment, please? That show was here in Ottawa.
EM: It was a show?
KH: Yes, to show those dolls. And there was a guy there named Mr. Hamilton, and he was a PR guy. And he also was looking for a name because they were building this subdivision over here, and they asked me for a suggestion. I said, “Oh, why don’t you call it Kanata?” So he did, so... I didn’t tell him the real meaning of that word.
WHM: Oh, Mom…
KH: But I might tell you after... Okay, keep going!
JA: “Ganada,” or Kanata as it is commonly pronounced by its inhabitants, is a suburban neighbourhood within the greater Ottawa area. If anyone has any guesses as to the true meaning of Kanata, please send them in via our email inbox!
WHM: Hey! Oh, Mom!
KH: My friend, Fidel! But they don’t have me in there. But I met him down in Cuba in 1959.
JA: In 1959, when Kahentinetha was just 19, she and three other McGill students, one of whom worked for the
McGill Daily, decided to go down to Cuba and interview Fidel Castro. They had seen him on the cover of
Time magazine from January 26, 1959. It was the first anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, an exciting and tumultuous time to be in Cuba. As students, they were invited to stay at the Havana Hilton Hotel. Castro would arrive each night and talk about the revolution and answer the students’ questions. There were people from Central and South America, but Kahentinetha and her friends were the only ones from Canada.
We continued on with some footage from Kahnawake, or Caughnawaga as it was called at the time. This video clip is from an episode of the CBC series “The Caughnawagans,” which originally aired on February 24, 1963.
KH: It’s Joe Horn! Stop it! Stop it!
WHM: Oh, stop! That was Joe Horn!
KH: That was Joe Horn! Not, not...
WHM: The other Joe Horn!
KH: That’s the other Joe Horn!
WHM: The other Joe Horn!
EM: The other Joe Horn!
WHM: The cousin.
KH: The cousin, no, the nephew, that was my father’s nephew. And when they were about 14, they didn’t want to go to residential school, and this was in 1932. They faked their death on that bridge, and they ran away, and they joined the circus, and they didn’t come back for years. Until they became of age.
WHM: Oh, so the guy…
KH: That was him!
WHM: …the hat, with the hat.
KH: The one before. Yes, yes, yes. Okay.
JA: The story of the two teenaged Mohawk boys who staged their death is the subject of a documentary currently in the works, produced by Roxann Whitebean and Kaniehtiio Horn, Kahentinetha’s youngest daughter. Kaniehtiio is a successful actor, having starred in numerous movies and TV shows including the National Geographic series “Barkskins” and the comedy series “Letterkenny.” She also produces the hugely popular “Coffee With My Ma” podcast, where she asks her mother about her adventures over coffee. We’ve added a link on the episode page for this podcast. Check it out!
WHM: Oh my God, Mom! It’s just like you can see people’s faces now!
KH: We recognize them all.
WHM: You can see the people now, their faces...
KH: My uncle! Andrew! Stop it! Stop it!
WHM: Stop! Who’s that?
KH: That’s my uncle Andrew! Andrew Horn, my father’s brother!
KH: And he’s the one that went to that residential school, and my uncle Jimmy, and my aunt Lily[?], and they told them whatever you do, don’t go, don’t let them send you, don’t let them take you there. And that’s why they ran away.
KH: And that’s Andrew. Isn’t that something?
WHM: Cool! The redhead?
KH: No, he was the big, tall guy with black hair.
KH: You know people in Kahnawake should see this.
WHM: Oh! That’s an awesome film!
EM: Love the end! The song.
WHM: I love it! Yeah!
EM: The bar scenes are good too!
WHM: But the bar scenes! Like you can see all in their faces, people like my age...
WHM: You see they are just reincarnated… talking…
KH: Yes. We look the same.
WHM: But we look the same. They would be their grandkids, you know?
WHM: Pretty cool.
KH: They would love to see that.
KH: That’s what they... they need to see that. Yes.
WHM: That would be cool.
JA: After the visit to the theatre, we headed across the street to our offices at Place de la Cité. Liz had selected a number of photographs to show Kahentinetha.
KH: This is my father right there.
KH: I got a copy of that. And that’s my grandfather, and that’s my grandmother. This is such a nice picture of them.
EM: Yeah, that’s nice!
KH: This is so nice, yes! You know when my father ran away, her hair turned completely white. Look at how pretty and young she was, eh? She used to make medicine, and people from Montréal used to come and get it. It was for arthritis. She used to make it. She used to go pick the herbs herself, and then she’d make it, and then they’d come. She sold it for hardly anything, because you’re not supposed to sell that stuff, it’s natural. But these were people from Montréal, they were very demanding about the medicines they were getting.
If I give that to my cousins, they’ll probably know who that one is. My guess is it’s Peter Horn, the youngest in the family... there was 14, 15 children, and he was the youngest. What happened was my grandmother there, she had one daughter, she was married to Angus Blue who died on that Quebec bridge, and she had twins after that. And then my grandfather was a widower, and he had three children, and he was working on the bridge, and on August the 29th, he came home to bring in the harvest, and the bridge fell. And four of his brothers were killed on that bridge. And Angus Blue was killed. There were 33 men that died.
JA: Of the 86 workers present that day, 75 lost their lives, and the rest were badly injured. Thirty-three of the fatalities were men from Kahnawake, or Caughnawaga as it was called at the time. Many of the workers were crushed by the twisted steel, some by the fall from that great height. Those who were trapped alive under the enormous structure suffered the cruellest fate. As the tide slowly came in, a priest gave the last rites to the drowning men who could not be freed. This incident remains one of the worst bridge construction disasters of all time. The cause of this collapse is controversial, to say the least, and there is plenty of material in LAC’s collection related to the tragedy if you would like to dig deeper. We’ll include a link in the show notes, to aid you in your research. Needless to say, this horrible loss devastated the residents of Kahnawake, leaving a gaping wound in their community that never fully healed. Twenty-five women became widows, and 53 children were suddenly without fathers. The only compensation paid to the families of the dead and to the badly injured survivors was the sum of 15 days’ wages.
KH: And then the Department of Indian Affairs declared all the children of all those people orphans, and they were going to seize them all and put them all over, you know, have them adopted and put away somewhere, I don’t know what they were going to do with them. So what they did was they arranged marriages. That’s how my grandmother and my grandfather got together, that was an arranged marriage.
JA: Okay, let’s get back to Kahentinetha’s life as a young teenager. With her father gone and many siblings to feed, new life circumstances forced Kahentinetha to start working at a young age. She soon discovered it wouldn’t be easy for an attractive young woman from Kahnawake to be taken seriously in the workforce.
KH: “Oh you’re so lucky! You know that you could pass, you could pass for a, you know like, something else...”
EM: Portuguese or something…
KH: Yeah! They used to tell me that. “And you know that you could marry a white man.” Yeah! I had a job, and it was in this lawyer’s office in town there, it was called the Royal Bank building, it was in there. And I was 16, and I had a job as a secretary. And these girls were telling me there was one lawyer, anyway, he was very, “Oh, he’s very interested in you!”
I said, “What?” You know, I was only 16. And then they said, “You know you could get yourself a really nice white man.” I said, “Well, I can’t anyway, I’m from Kahnawake, I’m not white, I have to marry an Indian.”
“What? No! No!” These women used to advise me.
And then this guy started making passes at me, and I was very uncomfortable. And anyway, I couldn’t take it. The things he would say to me. So I quit. It was a good job, and I quit. I couldn’t stay there. Everybody says, “Why did you quit?” You know, what are you gonna say? You can’t say anything, eh?
KH: It happened to me all the time, I had so many jobs.
JA: She took another secretarial job at Monsanto Canada Limited but soon moved on to Trans-Canada Airlines (TCA). At this time, she was working during the day while attending classes at Sir George Williams College at night. We showed Kahentinetha a couple of photos from her time at TCA. One depicts her sitting in the cockpit of an aircraft, smiling at the camera. The other shows her on her very first day meeting other TCA employees. The photographs stand in stark contrast to Kahentinetha’s memories from that time.
KH: I remember this guy, his name is Hal Walker. I was 18 years old. I had a job at Trans-Canada Air Lines, TCA, from which I got fired. [laughing]
EM: Is that Air Canada today?
KH: Yes. He used to write down everything I did wrong. He had a big list. Then I got called in, there was a big... They had a table like this, and they all sat there and told me all the things I did wrong. And they told me I was a misfit.
EM: You mean this is the airlines?
KH: They’d brought in a psychiatrist, psychologist, everything.
EM: They would bring in a psychologist?!
KH: Yes! I was a kid! And when they told me I was a misfit, you know what happened? I started to cry. And that was it, that’s what they did to me.
JA: As if Kahentinetha wasn’t busy enough, when she wasn’t at work or at school, she was busy writing letters to help further the cause of her people. Many of them were letters to the editor, but also to the Government of Canada. We have hundreds of them in our archives, so we brought up the boxes for her to see.
KH: I started when I was about 17. I’d write letters to the editor, and nobody knew that it was a female writing. They thought it was a guy. And then they would publish them. And then when they found out it was a girl, that was it, they wouldn’t publish it any more. Anything that came into my head, I’d write a letter about, a complaint.
One of them that I complained about was that in the sixties, they were giving women the birth control pills, and some of the women died. One of them was real good friends with your sister Pauline. Her name was Ouimet. I think her name was Mary Ouimet.
EM: I heard of that.
KH: She had two children, and then she died. And then there was another woman, I don’t remember all the names...
EM: Did they get like complications like strokes or anything?
KH: Yeah, different things like that.
EM: Blood clots...
KH: Well, yeah. When they took these pills, their veins would come up, you know, on their forehead and here. And I wrote about it, wrote to the government, and I said, there’s something going on here, and it’s killing the women. And I don’t think they ever answered that. They’ve destroyed a lot of people. And those were being experimented on our people, and we had a reaction to it, but we didn’t know.
JA: Not only were Indigenous women used as test cases for experimental high-dose birth control drugs such as Depo-Provera before they were approved in Canada, but forced sterilization was also extremely common at this time. In many cases, women were told that they were not allowed to see their newborn babies until they underwent sterilization surgery, another issue that Kahentinetha addressed in her letters.
KH: I don’t remember all the things I did. This one here: the Committee on Indians and the Criminal Law.
EM: This is 1964.
KH: I was... yeah. Dr. G.C. Montour. I knew him! His name was Slim Montour. He was a brilliant engineer. And he used to...
EM: Is he from Six Nations?
KH: Yes! But when he got his degree in engineering, you know what they did? They took away his Indian status.
EM: Disenfranchised him?
KH: They de-enfranchised him. He was forever mad over that. And he used to...
EM: Is that, they wouldn’t give you your degree paper until you signed away your rights?
KH: Yeah. You had to sign it away.
JA: Ironically, at the time the Canadian government referred to this process of losing one’s Indian status as “enfranchisement,” as it was seen as a means of entering into Canadian society as a full citizen. This “enfranchisement” process, quote-unquote, would have occurred to any status Indian woman who married a non-status Indian man, in addition to her band membership being revoked. “Enfranchisement” was also applied to remove the status of an Indian woman and the children, if her husband was “enfranchised.”
Recording of KH: We’ve got to stay here until they take the last Indian, until there’s not one other Indian left! They’re trying to scare us, but we don’t scare easily.
JA: You just heard Kahentinetha speaking in a clip from the National Film Board documentary
You Are on Indian Land, held by LAC. In 1969, a dispute emerged over the long-established right of Indigenous people to move freely between Canada and the U.S. without paying duty, since the Canadian–U.S. border was an unnaturally imposed border dividing the Mohawk people. Article III of the Jay Treaty of 1794 states, “It is agreed, that it shall at all times be free to His Majesty’s subjects, and the citizens of the United States, and also to the Indians dwelling on either side of the said boundary line, freely to pass and repass, by land or inland navigation into the respective territories and countries of the two parties on the continent of America, and freely carry on trade and commerce with each other.” As this right was no longer being honoured on their reserve, the Mohawk people of Akwesasne, which covers five jurisdictions in two countries, formed a blockade in protest. This led to the arrest of most of the protestors, including 29-year-old Kahentinetha. Here she describes the charges that were laid against her and the trials.
KH: And one of them was I “beat up” the entire Cornwall City Police. I was charged with that. And I also had a concealed weapon, but it turned out, it was just a little camera tool to take the air out of the tires. I did have that. But the picture they had of me in the press, they had me, they grabbed me and I was like this, and somebody drew a great big blade coming out of my... yeah! So I got charged with carrying a concealed... how do you conceal something as big as that? But I got charged with that, and I had a big, huge trial.
First one was in Cornwall, and it was Judge Baker, and it was all the cops there. He was calling all their names, and they had to come forward. And these big guys were very, very big, and so they’d step forward, and I wasn’t that big, and they started to laugh, you know. It was 24 of them. And the judge got mad, he says, “I will not have that in my courtroom! Clear the room! Clear the room!” So we had to all leave, and when we came back in, he brought it down to two, charged me with two. And then I won that.
Then the next trial came up, and a guy volunteered to be my lawyer, and his name was John Sopinka, famous, you know he was the head of the Supreme Court, he became eventually the head of the Supreme Court. [Note: John Sopinka became a Supreme Court Justice but not Chief Justice.] He was young then. And that was a circus, that trial, a complete circus, but I won’t talk about it. It’s too much, it’s too unbelievable what happened at that trial. But anyway, he defended me. So anyway, there’s lots to talk about that, there’s so many things that happened, but I won that case. I almost didn’t. So the judge says, “I acquit you!” And I wanted to have a trial! And I said, “I appeal the acquittal!” [laughing]
I did! And John Sopinka says, “Hey, I just got you off!” And I said, “Hey! You’re not doing what I told you! I wanted my evidence in there.” And then I said, “You’re fired!” [laughing]
I fired him! Then the judge broke everything up, he says... then he started reprimanding me over that and telling me, you know, how bad it was, and I could end up in jail for a long time and all this. He says, “I’m going to give you time to think about it.” Anyway, that’s... I won’t tell you the whole story, but it was pretty wild.
JA: Kahentinetha was very active in bringing her people together for discussions about how to further the cause of Indigenous people. Her efforts often caught the attention of non-Indigenous figures as well.
KH: I called, I arranged a meeting at the Royal York in Toronto, and it was called “the Iroquois Speak.” And I invited our people from all over to come there, and I had Louis Hall there, Pete Dionne, all these people came, all old people. They weren’t old then. And then our people came from all the reserves, and we spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
A lot of people came, and there was a guy named Scott Young, his name was Scott Young. He was working for... I think it was
The Globe and Mail. And he came there, and he sat there and listened to us. And then he asked me if he could interview me, and I said okay. So, so, what’s his name... Snake Oil. Do you remember? You don’t remember Snake Oil... You know Snake, that’s his father.
EM: I know the family, yeah.
KH: He drove me over to this guy’s house, and there was a young guy there, he was about 14 years old, tall, skinny guy, he sat in with us. And then he [Scott Young] interviewed me, “Why are you here” and... So me and Snake Oil, we just talked about the confederacy and who we are and all this. We spent the afternoon together. And then he wrote an amazing article, and it brought all kinds of people to that meeting. And the guy, his son’s name was Neil Young.
KH: Yes! Later on, he became a well-known singer! That was who that was. And he sat in with us that whole time. He was just a kid. He comes down the stairs... I remember him coming downstairs...
EM: He’s very pro-Native.
KH: Yeah! He had a guitar, and he came down the stairs. And a couple years back, I said, “I remember Scott Young, but I can’t find anything about that meeting or that article he wrote.” So on my, on
Mohawk Nation News , somebody sent me the article!
EM: Oh, good!
KH: And it was him, Neil Young. Yes!
KH: And my stats went sky high! It went viral! So I had a small two-row [wampum] made for him, and I sent it to him.
KH: I hadn’t talked to him since he was 14 years old.
JA: It seems very likely that this meeting had quite an impression on young Neil. Throughout his long career, he has advocated for Indigenous rights in song and through protest. But he wasn’t the only one taking note. In the mid-1960s, at the height of his acting career, Marlon Brando called Kahentinetha out of the blue and asked her to come visit him in Hollywood. She responded with a hard “no” initially, but eventually agreed to fly down there to meet with him. She ended up spending some time with him at his Hollywood mansion. He was very interested in Kahentinetha’s life in Kahnawake and the history of the Mohawk people. He was very sensitive to the plight of the Indigenous peoples of North America. In 1973, Brando famously refused to accept the Academy Award for Best Actor, sending Sacheen Littlefeather, president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee, in his place.
Sacheen Littlefeather: …and the reasons for this being, are the treatment of American Indians today, by the film industry… [booing] excuse me… [applause]
JA: Brando was ruthlessly attacked for this statement but defended his decision publicly. In this clip from the Dick Cavett show from June 12, 1973, Brando explained why he thought it was important to draw attention to the treatment of Indigenous people in the motion picture industry.
Marlon Brando: I don’t think that people generally realize what the motion picture industry has done to the American Indian, as a matter of fact, all ethnic groups… all minorities, all non-whites, and people just simply don’t realize, they just took it for granted that that’s the way people are going to be presented, and these clichés were just going to be perpetuated.
JA: For the full details of Kahentinetha’s interaction with Marlon Brando, be sure to check out Episode 8 of the “Coffee With My Ma” podcast. You’ll find a link on the episode page for this podcast.
Clip KH: There was so much chaos going on. There was fighting going on everywhere, pushing and shoving and screaming, the little one was screaming.
Clip WHM: The cry you never want to hear is that cry of “I’m scared I’m going to die.” Like, she was absolutely terrified. [fade]
JA: Stay tuned for Part 2 of this episode, where we dig further into Kahentinetha’s incredible life and legacy, including her role in the Oka Crisis, in which her daughter Waneek almost lost her life.
JA: If you’d like to learn more about Kahentinetha Horn, please visit us online at bac-lac.gc.ca/podcasts. On the episode page for this podcast, you will find a number of links related to her story, including a link to our Flickr album, which features a selection of images from the LAC collection.
Thank you for being with us. I’m Josée Arnold, your host. You’ve been listening to “Discover Library and Archives Canada—where Canadian history, literature and culture await you.” A special thank you to our guests today, Kahentinetha Horn and Waneek Horn-Miller. Special thanks also to Madeleine Trudeau and Jennifer Roger for their contributions to this episode.
This episode was produced and engineered by Tom Thompson with assistance from Isabel Larocque and Elizabeth Montour.
If you liked this episode, we invite you to subscribe to the podcast. You can do this through the RSS feed on our website, via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
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You Are on Indian Land, 1969 / National Film Board of Canada
Library and Archives Canada / ISN 303574
Close-Up, 1963 / Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Library and Archives Canada / ISN 8572
Marlon Brando's Oscar win for The Godfather, 1973 / 45th Annual Academy Awards
Marlon Brando on rejecting his Oscar for The Godfather, June 12, 1973 / The Dick Cavett Show
“Chiefs and Champions,” Episode 2, Waneek Horn-Miller, 2004 / Tribute Film Productions
Library and Archives Canada / ISN 375430