The Mellon ISCEI Writer in Residence program is one of the initiatives funded by the five-year, US$1.25-million grant by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in June 2019 to support McGill’s Indigenous Studies and Community Engagement Initiative (ISCEI). The ISCEI promotes the growth of the Indigenous Studies Program in the Faculty of Arts, and aims to serve as a nexus for Indigenous scholarship and community-building and to facilitate communication and collaboration both across units at McGill, as well as in partnership with Indigenous communities.
The Writer in Residence program brings Indigenous writers to campus to continue their creative work, share their expertise, interact with students and faculty members, and enhance knowledge of and exposure to Indigenous writing among the campus community and the public at large.
This year’s Mellon ISCEI Writer in Residence is Greg Horn, a Kanien’kehá:ka of Kahnawake, and an award-winning journalist.
In the summer of 1990, Greg Horn was a 13-year-old living in Kahnawake when the so-called Oka Crisis exploded. The proposed expansion of a golf course and condo development onto land near Oka, Quebec that include Kanehsatake’s cemetery, triggered a 78-day standoff between Mohawk people, Quebec police, and the Canadian Army. Mounting tensions finally erupted on July 11, 1990, ending with the death of Corporal Marcel Lemay, a Sûreté du Québec police officer.
Horn remembers the media coverage as being painfully biased. “It was horrendous,” he says. “Nobody was telling our story.”
Jump ahead to 2023. Now the editor and publisher of Iorì:wase, Kahnawà:ke’s award-winning weekly newspaper, Horn has been helping rectify the media bias laid bare during the Oka Crisis.
“Even though it is getting better today, the outside media really only covers Indigenous issues when it’s bad news or when we’re adversarial with one level of government or another,” he says.
“That’s why media outlets like Iorì:wase are so important for Indigenous communities,” says Horn. “A lot of our stories that deserve to be told, don’t get told. But we’re out here telling the stories of our community, our successes and, yes, even our struggles, because they are all part of our history. For far too often our true history has been overlooked. If we can tell even a fraction of these stories and help educate not only our community, but the outside community as well, then we’re all better off.”
An award-winning journalist, Horn has been plying his trade for 25 years. But, when asked how he got into the field, Horn laughs. “I was tricked.”
Horn’s original plan was to teach history. While doing his undergraduate degree in history at Concordia, he applied for a summer job as a “historical writer” at the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitiohkwa Language and Cultural Center.
During the interview he discovered that the actual job was writing for the Eastern Door, Kahnawake’s long-time community newspaper. “I said I was intrigued, and they hired me on the spot,” he says. “I started that Monday. My first assignment was covering a George Jones concert at the Akwesasne Mohawk Bingo. I’m not much of a country music fan, so that was a bit of a challenge.”
Musical challenges aside, that summer job changed Horn’s life.
“I went back to the history program that fall, but my heart wasn’t in it anymore. I wanted to be a journalist,” he says. He continued to do freelance work for the Eastern Door that year and then took a year off school. That year he spent working at the Eastern Door.
The following year, Horn applied for and was accepted into Concordia’s journalism program and, as he says, “I’ve been in journalism ever since.”
Horn spent 11 years at the Eastern Door, until in 2008, when the newspaper was sold and he and the paper parted ways. He then launched Iorì:wase, an media outlet covering Kahnawake. It was a bit of a make-work project at first, allowing Horn to continue honing his journalistic chops. “It let me to keep writing and practicing my photography,” says Horn. “Like collecting clippings for potential employers.”
But the website began attracting attention and advertising revenue began to trickle in. Almost all the money Horn made went directly to upgrading his equipment, including his camera and computer. Slowly, but surely, Iorì:wase’s audience grew.
Swimming against the current
Horn doesn’t mind swimming against the current.
In 2012, the Iorì:wase website hit one million views. “I knew we had something good there,” he said. “I wanted to expand.”
People in the community had been telling Horn they wanted a print version of Iorì:wase. But at that time, media outlets were sounding the death knell of print newspapers, with many of them pulling the plugs on printing presses and moving strictly online.
“People really wanted a printed newspaper,” says Horn. “I just felt we could make it work.”
Horn put together a team of writers, designers and people to sell ads. On April 11, 2013, the first issue of Iorì:wase rolled off the press.
There were growing pains, of course. Because Iorì:wase was originally a bi-weekly publication, some staff would only work every second week during production. They supplemented their incomes by picking up second jobs. But, says Horn, the team was committed to the paper. “They really believed in the project,” he says. “They made it work.”
That commitment was rewarded when two-and-a-half years later, Iorì:wase became a weekly publication.
In 2022, Iorì:wase was named Best Overall Newspaper by the Quebec Community Newspapers Association. “I am so proud of my team for this award,” says Horn. “They made this all possible.”
Tough juggling act
Horn was also concerned that the success of the printed Iorì:wase might slow the momentum the website had enjoyed. “We wanted to be relevant and have people buy our paper, but we also wanted them to keep visiting our website,” he says. “At first, we had trouble juggling that.”
Horn took the advice of one of his journalism professors to heart. “He said, in the future we will still need the news, but in different formats. We have to be ready to adapt.”
So, Horn adapted.
As new technologies became available at affordable prices, he upgraded and expanded his operations. Horn began posting PDF versions of the print edition online. In 2015, Iorì:wase became one of the first (“maybe the first,”) Indigenous media outlets in Canada to launch a mobile app.
Beginning in 2017, Horn began “experimenting” with digital multimedia. A series of grants allowed him to hire a full-time digital media manager and Iorì:wase now produces regular video segments and podcasts.
“The idea is to give a platform to people from our community to tell stories that they otherwise wouldn’t have,” says Horn.
“Out print edition comes out every Thursday and we have a free online edition that accompanies it,” says Horn. “Some articles include an embedded video or podcast. Sometimes there’s both.”
“They all compliment each other and help us reach as many people as possible.”
Not surprisingly, given his fearless pursuit of new horizons, Horn and his team at Iorì:wase have started producing documentaries. The first was the 2021 film Warhawks, which looks at the history of minor baseball in Kahnawake, including the incredible 2021 playoff runs of three local teams.
“This goes back to having to be adaptable. It’s just another form of journalism,” says Horn, who has also produced a short documentary on the importance of maple syrup to the Kahnawake community.
Accurate and airtight
As the Mellon ISCEI Writer in Residence, Horn is looking forward to meeting and working with Indigenous students at McGill. “We need to amplify our voices,” he says. “And who better to tell our stories than brilliant, young people?”
For the budding journalist, Horn offers some advice. “It’s good to be fast,” he says, “but it’s better to be accurate.”
“Sure, you can get the story out there first, but if it is full of holes it will ruin your name. The most important thing about journalism is the critical thinking involved in fact checking and making sure your story is airtight,” he says. “In the end, all you have as a journalist is your reputation.”
Good job Greg! You will make great impressions on the young journalists and will no doubt inspire our brothers and sisters at McGill to tell our stories as they should be told!!!