How Kahn-Tineta Horn became an Indian

One of the facts of life on Canadian Indian reserves is that many young people are imbued with a sense of shame in their race. A few of them conquer it. This is the story of one who did, and how, as a fashion model in Montreal, she is trying to guide other Indians along trails she has helped to blaze

PETER GZOWSKI May 16 1964

How Kahn-Tineta Horn became an Indian

One of the facts of life on Canadian Indian reserves is that many young people are imbued with a sense of shame in their race. A few of them conquer it. This is the story of one who did, and how, as a fashion model in Montreal, she is trying to guide other Indians along trails she has helped to blaze

PETER GZOWSKI May 16 1964

How Kahn-Tineta Horn became an Indian

One of the facts of life on Canadian Indian reserves is that many young people are imbued with a sense of shame in their race. A few of them conquer it. This is the story of one who did, and how, as a fashion model in Montreal, she is trying to guide other Indians along trails she has helped to blaze

PETER GZOWSKI

AT TWENTY - TWO, Kahn - Tineta Horn is best known as a Montreal fashion model who gets about half her modelling jobs simply because she's beautiful and wears clothes well, and the other half because she looks exotic. She would like to be better known as a spokesman for

her people — Canada's Indians — and she spends most of the time she has left over from modelling and most of the money she makes, on her furious one-girl campaign to improve the Indians' lot. One part of this campaign is simply to in crease the non-Indians' respect for

Indians by her own public conduct. Another is to show Indians that she can live comfortably and successfully in the white man's world without losing her Indian identity. She is a segregationist, in that she would like to maintain most of the differences between the Indians’ way of life and what we call the North American way, and she makes a big point of her own Indian-ness. Most of her clothes, which she designs herself, have some Indian motif — a beaded pattern here, a suede fringe there. She combs her hair straight down to her shoulders, and often keeps it in place with a ribbon made of wampum.

Kahn - Tineta does not like to talk about herself. Much of the

personal material that follows was drawn from her with difficulty and is printed over her objections. Yet her background is an important clue to the problems many Canadian Indians now face. For one thing, she has lived in the way American Negroes call “passing.” She has never quite denied she is an Indian — except during one European holiday when, as a lark, she claimed various nationalities — but on several occasions she has carefully skirted the issue. She is tall and fine - boned, with hair as black as a wilderness lake. She has deep brown, wideset eyes that occasionally show flecks of green. Her mouth is wide and full. Her skin is no darker than many a well - tanned blonde's. With her

hair combed back, she could be anything from Polynesian to Spanish. As a college student in Montreal she called herself Audrey, and at that time the only fact about her that would have called attention to her racial origin was her address — the Caughnawaga reserve. Instead, on a few applications for part-time work she put down an address in Brooklyn, New York, where she had once lived as a child.

Kahn-Tineta is not a “typical'’ Indian. In their physical and cultural characteristics — as well as in their prosperity, sophistication and even pride in themselves — Canadian Indians are no more uniform than Canadian non-Indians. She is a Caughnawaga Mohawk, a mem-

ber of a band that hy most criteria stands at one end of the Indian spectrum. The Caughnawagas are a prou d, self - sufficient people. Their reserve is a gently rolling eleven thousand acres across the St. Lawrence Seaway from the island of Montreal. It is land that a group of Indians, newly converted to Christianity, settled in 1667 after finding they were unwelcome among their own people and after signing a peace treaty with the French. Even the first settlers of Caughnawaga. predominantly though not all Mohawk, carried some white blood: the Iroquois, a society of nations of which the Mohawks are one. often stole children from white pioneers to replace children killed by white men, and

brought them up as Indians. Some more white blood has crept into the band over the years, so that the really Indian - looking Mohawk is an exception. In Kahn - Tineta’s family, for instance — although all her grandparents were “Indians” — two of the girls are close to blonde and one of the hoys has freckles.

There are now some forty-two hundred Caughnawagas on the reserve, living, mainly, in clapboard houses. Most live in a village called Caughnawaga, near the Mercier bridge to Montreal. Few of them farm; they rent their land instead to Frcnch-C'anadian farmers. A big chunk of their reserve has been rented to the K a n a w a k i Golf Club, where Indian boys caddy in the summertime, but where any

One event in their history has had far - reaching effects on the Caughnawagas. In 1886, the Dominion Bridge Company began construction of a bridge for the Canadian Pacific Railway from a point near the Caughnawaga reserve to Montreal. A few of the Indians were hired as casual laborers. The Dominion Bridge bosses quickly noticed that the Caughnawagas clambered about the high steel structures sure-footedly and fearlessly, and began to train a few of them to work on the rivet-gangs on top. This, as Joseph Mitchell noted in his excellent article on the Caughnawagas in the New Yorker magazine in 1949, is the most dangerous work in construction and continued on page 32

continued from page 23

For Indian boys, the high-steel workers became Indian heroes

the highest paid. “One false step," Mitchell wrote, “and it’s goodbye, Charlie!” No one has ever satisfactorily explained the Caughnawagas’ balance and lack of fear of heights — although some writers have suggested it is a heritage of the way Indians walk, with their feet pointed straight ahead and on a single line instead of “straddling” the way we do — but no one has ever denied that all the Mohawks seem to have these characteristics. As if to emphasize that nothing of their aptitude has been lost to them over the years, two young Caughnawaga men last spring het each other fifty dollars on a race over the top of the arc on the Mercier bridge, one racing on each narrow steel span, hundreds of feet above the St. Lawrence. Unfortunately, they happened to make

the bet at the height of the FLQ scares. The week before, the FLQ terrorists had blown up a railway bridge. As the two young braves went licketysplit up the arches, traffic in the two lanes below screeched to a halt, and several cars backed off the bridge. In a flash, the police arrived. At the far end of the bridge, they gathered in one of the young Indians — who later collected his fifty dollars for finishing. The other simply stopped up on top, and hid among the steel girders until nightfall; the Quebec police haven't caught him yet.

When the railway bridge to Montreal was finished in the 1880s, some of the Caughnawagas began seeking jobs on high-steel projects elsewhere, and, as Mitchell reports, little boys who had previously looked up to the men who went out to circuses in the summer and danced and war-whooped all over the U. S. began looking up to the high-steel workers. More and more of them took to the new work, and even the famous collapse of a bridge under construction near Quebec City in 1907, in which thirty-five Caughnawagas were killed, failed to

dampen the band’s dedication. In the 1920s, with scores of skyscrapers going up in New York, one neighborhood in Brooklyn, near the headquarters of the high-steel union local, became a sort of downtown of Caughnawaga. But the reserve has remained home, and on weekends, and whenever there is no work, many of the tenand fifteen-thousand-dollar-a-year men in Brooklyn still get into their big, paid-for cars and drive back to their women and children and their clapboard houses.

Kahn-Tineta’s father was Assenaientor. or Joe, Horn. (Nearly all the Caughnawagas, who have learned that non - Indians can't pronounce their names in Mohawk and find their translations into English faintly comical, have adopted non-Indian names. Horn is a contraction of Big Horn.) Tall and handsome, with a hooked, Indian nose, Joe Horn was a proud and independent man even among the proud and independent Mohawks. At the age of fourteen he left the reserve and roamed North America for two years, learning the ways and the language of the white man at first hand. But the pull of the reserve, of the land, was too strong, and Joe Horn went home.

The good life on the reserve

Caughnawagas tend to marry early. At eighteen a man is entitled to a piece of land, but he must build on it before he is twenty-one or lose it. At eighteen Joe Horn married Konwenni, or Margaret, Diabo, a slight, pretty sixteen-year-old of the Turtle clan. (The Iroquois are all divided into many clans named after living creatures, which transcend the tribes. A child is a member of his mother's clan, and may lay claim for support by his mother's family; a Mohawk may marry a Tuscarora, but a Turtle may not marry a Turtle, no matter from what tribe.) The Horns moved into the first of ten different reserve houses the family was to live in as it grew. Joe began work on the steel.

Kahn-Tineta is the second of nine children. Her early memories of reserve life arc all pleasant. “Summer was the time,” she recalled recently during a drive around Caughnawaga. “We practically lived in the water. The Catholics weren't allowed to go into the water until it was blessed, but the rest of us started swimming almost as soon as the ice was gone. My sisters and 1 would get up in summer just after sunrise. We'd gather up all the diapers — there was no indoor plumbing — and take them down to the beach. When we had them all washed we'd come back for breakfast. Sometimes my mother would just put on a big pot of stew, and anyone who was hungry would eat when he felt like it. We’d play around the wharf, too — there was a big wharf before the Seaway came and took the land — and the tourists would come out and throw coins into the water and watch us dive for them. Another thing we'd do is ride our bikes off the end of the wharf. Just ride them into the air, and dive for them later.”

Kahn-Tineta is a member of what is probably the last generation of Caughnawagas not to speak any English before going to school. With the

coming of television to the reserve in the last ten years or so, most of the children now learn at least to understand English, and many of the families speak it at home. But the Horns did not, and Kahn-Tineta spoke only Mohawk until she was five. That was the year her brother, slightly less than a year older, started at the United Church school, and she began tagging after him and, quite often, sitting with him through classes, saying nothing but absorbing the new language.

From the outset of her own formal schooling Kahn-Tineta did well, and one of the reasons she gives for her success is that first, warm-up year, which gave her a head start over most of her contemporaries. She enjoyed school. At the same time, though, the attitude that was to affect her deeply later on began to take shape: not quite shame at being Indian, but a sense of the white man's feeling of superiority and of consequent feelings of inferiority in herself. The Mohawk lan-

guage was outlawed at the United Church school, and Kahn-Tineta remembers one occasion when she was beaten for speaking it to her brother, who, without an equivalent of her year’s dry run, failed his first term and was a classmate of hers until he quit high school.

Joe Horn was rapidly becoming a success on the high steel, and had prospects of a supervisory job. As one result he began to have to move continued on pafte 36

about even more than the normally peripatetic Mohawk rivet-gangs. Rather than be away from his growing family all the time, he bought a trailer and sometimes took Margaret and the children with him. They ate in the trailer but often slept outdoors. One year, Kahn-Tineta went to six different schools. Sometimes she and her brothers and sisters would be the only Indian children in a school.

Often the Horns spent their holidays with the children's grandparents, either at Caughnawaga or at another Mohawk reserve on the Ontario-OuebecNew York border called St. Regis. The children took non-Indian names during those early years, and Kahn-Tineta chose hers, Audrey, with the help of an uncle at St. Regis who was an admirer of the movie star, Audrey Hepburn. Most of their non-Indian names have stuck more firmly than the original Indian ones. Even now, in contrast to most people of nonAnglo-Saxon background who achieve some fame and adopt new names, Kahn-Tineta is called Audrey by her mother and Kahn-Tineta by the people she meets professionally. (KahnTineta means “Green Meadows,” and she does not like contractions, like Kahnny. "How would you like to be called Greenie?” she says.)

Audrey Horn spent her eleventh year at P.S. 6 in Brooklyn. P.S. 6 was mostly Puerto Rican, Negro, Italian, Jewish — and tough. As one of only two or three Indian children in a school of more than two thousand, her identity of herself as an Indian continued to slip from her. “I just didn't belong," she said recently. “I had a fight with a Puerto Rican girl on my first day. but I won, and I was left pretty well alone. Oh, once some-

body dropped a book on me over a stair-railing, but no one really bothered me very much. It wasn't that I was an Indian. I was nothing. I had no group. I didn't really try to pass, but I wore my hair in braids, tied back, and I just went my way.”

In the summer of 1953, when KahnTineta was eleven. Joe Horn, father of nine, was killed in a steel accident in Vermont. The family returned to the reserve, and Kahn-Tineta entered the English-speaking high school at Eachine, a suburb of Montreal not far from the reserve. She was one of twelve Caughnawaga students who commuted daily by bus. “I don’t think you can say we were discriminated against,” she says. “We were just ignored. By the teachers and everyone. In three years I can only remember being in one white girl's house. I went back with her after school. We played around for a while and then I went home. She came out to the reserve once, later. We never became friends.”

One of the ways Kahn-Tineta, as a newly emerged Indian nationalist, now works on her people’s behalf is as a needier; she dictates as many as thirty letters a day and telephones as many people as she thinks necessary to get some specific action launched. This was a habit she developed early, and even in the periods when, as at Lachine, she was just drifting in the white man's world, she was not above prodding the right authority. “One winter there was a dead dog lying on a snowbank right where I caught the bus,” she said recently. “It was pretty bad, and as the snow melted it was getting closer and closer to the ground. 1 started calling the Indian agent on the reserve, and I'd say.

“There's a dead dog on the corner. Aren’t you responsible for keeping the place clean?’ He’d say, “Who's this?’ But I wouldn't tell him. He wouldn't do anything about it, and I'd phone every day. ‘There are children playing with that dead dog,’ I'd say. And finally one day it was gone.'’

At thirteen Kahn-Tineta lied about her age and got an office job part-time to help support her family. She was tall for her years, and has always been immensely capable with her hands, and she learned to type on the job. Throughout high school and later, at Sir George Williams University, where she began an arts course when she was seventeen, she worked summers, weekends and after hours to help pay the bills.

One of the reasons that Kahn-Tineta did not emphasize her Indian-ness during her teens — and even, as on application forms, sometimes ducked it — was her discovery of an attitude that still dogs her and that she still finds distasteful: the non-Indian's apparently fixed idea that Indian girls have loose morals. Wherever she w'as known as an Indian, men would make indecent suggestions to her. “They'd say things in front of me they'd never think of saying in front of other girls,” she says. Sometimes the white man's ideas about Indian girls turned out to be even stranger and, to Kahn-Tineta, so ignorant as to be comic. “When I was in my teens,” she says, laughing, but still unable to take it simply as a joke, “there was a movie starring — of all people — Audrey Hepburn. She was supposed to be an Indian and she was trying to get title to a piece of land that belonged to her family. There was some doubt about whether she was an Indian though, so they made her take off her clothes, or some of them. The picture — I forget the name of it — never did explain what it was they were trying to find out. You sec. some American Indians have what are called Mongolian spots, purple birthmarks on their hips or backs — I have one myself — that Japanese and other people get. They're one of the reasons anthropologists assume we’re related to some Eastern people, but not everybody knows about it. Well, after this picture came out, nearly all the Indian girls 1 know

were getting asked, “What is it? What's different?’ Those men had the wildest ideas, and they didn’t mind talking about them. I mean, it's funny now, but it was offensive at the time.”

Sir George Williams was where Kahn-Tineta came closest to “passing,” doing her hair back and dressing in the protective coloring of any young Montreal co-ed. In her first few months there, several freshmen asked her for dates, and she was, she says, very hesitant about the reactions she

would get by suggesting they pick her up at Caughnawaga. “‘Caughnawaga!' they'd say. ‘You’re not an Indian?' ” And even in recreating these scenes now. Kahn-Tineta, the proud, articulate nationalist, turns her head shyly to one side, and nods.

To do her classmates justice, none that she can remember withdrew his application for a date when he learned where she lived — though not all her dates ever did learn — and she recalls only one whose parents frowned on

his dating an Indian. “His great-greatgreat-grandparents had been scalped or something," she says now. with a smile. What a reporter detects, though, when she talks about herself as a teenager, is a sense of not belonging — of being different, without any place she could find comfort in her difference. When white men make comparisons with Indians, in everything from movies to real histo-y. the Indian almost always comes off second best. It was the slow drip, d ip of

the white man's sense of superiority in his own world that, in the midst of that world, wore down Kahn-Tincta’s pride. To take just one tiny example from the many she cites in her attempt to explain her feelings toward the whites’ attitude as seen, as it were, from below: why, she asks, is it the hoirie of the Little Big Horn, and why is it Custer’s last stand? “What actually happened was that Custer, the great hero, raided an encampment of Indian women and children and massacred them. That was the ‘battle.’ Then the Indian warriors who had been camped nearby attacked Custer’s troops. That was the heroic ‘last stand.’ The worst part of it is, that’s the way we’re taught history ourselves by white teachers. And some of that attitude — a wrong one — wears off on us.”

Perhaps the first sure step in KahnTineta’s return to her identity as an Indian occurred in the contest to elect the carnival queen of Sir George during her first year. Kahn-Tineta, or Audrey, won — and patently not in the kind of display-of-tolerance vote that has elected a number of nonwhite queens of Canadian campuses in recent years. “When they came to ask me where I came from, and I said Caughnawaga, they were really, well, not shocked, but surprised, and I sort of enjoyed it.” She had. in other w-ords, succeeded at a white man’s game, on the w hite man’s terms.

That year, Kahn-Tineta’s extra-curricular job was at Trans-Canada Air Lines, and in the summer following her first year at Sir George, she won an employee’s flight to Mexico, where she had been invited to meet the family of a Sir George student who was courting her — unsuccessfully, as it turned out. She overstayed her leave and lost her job. At loose ends, she applied for, and was granted, one of a number of scholarships for Canadian students who wanted to take on-thejob training in France. For the next six months she worked in a Paris bank, telling people who asked that she was part Indian and part French Canadian. “I couldn't speak any French at all when I left for France,” she says, “but I guess over there they don't think French Canadians can speak French anyway, so I got along, and I picked it up pretty quickly. In the summer, I travelled all around Europe wdth a Russian girl I'd met in Paris. She had quite a lot of Mongolian in her, high cheekbones and dark hair, and we used to say we w'ere sisters. Sometimes we'd both be Russians, and sometimes both Polynesians, and sometimes both Canadian Indians.

It just depended on our mood.” Kahn-Tineta’s experience in countries w here it meant no more to be an Indian than to be, say. Irish deepened her growing sense of, and pride in. herself as an Indian, so that when she returned to Montreal, and re-entered Sir George, she began investigating her own roots, and launched herself on an almost formal program of reading to discover her people's history. The more she delved, the greater grew her sense of pride — and her dedication to helping preserve the parts of her culture that she feels to be superior to the white man’s. At the same time, with her new-found poise, she registered as a fashion model and, because

she could pose as anything from a Spanish dancer to an Indian maiden, she succeeded fairly quickly in the competitive world of honte couture. She has, of course, missed out on jobs because she looks exotic, but she has won a lot more on the same grounds, and she is forever being named something like Miss Canadian History, as she was last summer to promote a series of books. As a public figure, she has won an audience for her ideas about Indian nationalism — the ideas outlined in the previous issue of Maclean's — almost as fast as she has developed them and, if her statements have sometimes outdistanced the facts, they have also brought her to the attention of a number of people who are interested in Indians and who send her books, manuscripts and simply outlines ot their ideas. Perhaps most important of all. her beauty and her frankness — even when it appears, as it sometimes does, misinformed — have drawn the fact of the Indian in ( anada, and some of his problems, to the attention of white Canadians who were not previously interested in Indians.

On a more practical level, KahnTineta began helping her family, with both her new influence and the money her modelling has brought her. Her older brother is a steel-worker who lives in New Jersey. A younger brother, Frank, is now completing his studies in electrical engineering at the University of NewBrunswick. A third boy, Joe, will enter Lower Canada College this fall on a scholarship that KahnTineta helped him to acquire. The expansion of her campaign for betterment has spread, almost by osmosis, from her family to all Indians, so that now. for instance, when a band of Naskapis from near Seven Islands is reported to be starving, one of the first people to hear about it — in a telephoned plea for help from a local lawyer — is Kahn-Tineta.

Her headquarters now is a small, two-room apartment in the shadow of Mount Royal, half a block from fashionable Sherbrooke Street. One room is filled with furniture she has made herself, low couches made from doors, and a bookcase filled with everything from Catch-22, to The Early Stuarts, to How to Get Into TV, as well as a number of works on Indians. The other room serves in the daytime as an office, and in it, a younger sister. Estelle, works as a full-time secretary. Occasionally, the work involved in Kahn-Tineta’s myriad of projects piles up so high that she requires a second part-time assistant.

In her new role as a spokesman for Indian nationalism, Kahn-Tineta has made a few, if not enemies, at least people who think she exceeds her knowledge and experience. From time to time, she seems almost too professional, too conscious of the impact she is making herself, too involved with more commercial aspects of public relations. For all her charm, and her girlish enjoyment of being something of a celebrity, she can often turn on a calculated flattery that is too obviously calculated. But, in the words of one older Indian who has spent a great deal of his life fighting for his people, “She can do no harm. And she can do a great deal of good.” ★