Ottawa-born actress Kaniehtiio (pronounced Kuh-nee-tee-ow) Horn doesn’t make new year’s resolutions, only intentions. But with a career trajectory as great as hers, perhaps resolutions aren’t needed.
The 37-year-old actress is best known for her recurring role as Tanis on the famed Canadian series Letterkenny. She is also seen on the FX on Hulu Series Reservation Dogs. In 2022, Kaniehtiio worked alongside Anna Kendrick as a supporting actress in Alice Darling, shot in Toronto.
But 2024 will be her biggest year yet: Kaniehtiio’s feature directorial debut, Seeds, will be released this year, which Horn is writing, producing, directing and leading in. On top of those four titles, she continues to work as a producer on the Letterkenny spinoff Shoresy, is publishing her first children’s book, and continues to grow into her role as mom to her son.
As our winter issue cover, Kaniehtiio – whose name means ‘Beautiful Snow’ – reflects on the end of Letterkenny, her new life as a mom, and all of her endeavours slated for 2024.
You grew up in Ottawa and on the Kahnawake Mohawk Reserve near Montreal. What were some of your favourite memories as a child?
My entire life I have gone between two loving households. I have three sisters on my mother’s side and three on my father’s side. After the blockade of 1990 my mother moved her family back to Kahnawake where I went to school, but I did spend almost every weekend and holiday in Ottawa with my dad’s family.
I did tons of extra curricular activities as a kid… lots of sports and art including piano (I wasn’t very good, I hated practicing) and figure skating (also was terrible, legs too skinny, feet too big).
Some of my favourite memories of my childhood are going camping in Algonquin Park every summer with my dad and spending time at my Grannies place in Picton when it was still just a town full of retirees and farmers.
You were also into swimming and water polo when you were young. What drew you to those sports? And why ultimately was acting your first love?
One day when I was in grade 4 my mother said, “You need to get into a sport, I found a pool in Chateauguay and signed
you up for competitive swimming, you start next week.”
All six of my sisters at one point in the 80s made up almost the whole O.Y.O. Swim Club in Ottawa. I think my mother’s logic behind putting her daughters in swimming is that it was a sport that didn’t involve ‘judging’ and you relied on the power of you and you alone. You race against your own best time.
My sister Ojistoh ended up playing waterpolo in high school and invited my other sister Waneek to try it out and she excelled in it, eventually ending up at the Olympics. I got bored of swimming and in grade 8 I started water polo playing for CAMO, and Team Quebec and one tournament with the Youth National Team.
I loved it so much. I remember being at the Olympics watching Waneek and thinking and truly believing ‘I could go to the Olympics’, I knew it was possible if I really wanted it but I also felt like that was Waneek’s ‘thing’. As a competitive sister, I knew I needed my own thing and I always knew that thing was performing.
You’ve spoken in many interviews about how you’ve grown up in activism, watching your mom, Kahentinetha. What role did your mom play in supporting your own career and early pursuits?
Both of my parents have been amazing and supportive, I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for my father and
mother’s love and support.
My mother always said to us ‘no matter what you choose to do, be the best you possibly can’. If you decide to be a dishwasher for the rest of your life, be the best damn dishwasher you can be, and never be afraid to work hard, get dirty and use your hands. No one in my family pursued arts as a career even though my sisters are very artistic in their own ways… my sister Natasha, for example, is an incredible painter.
So I didn’t really have anyone to guide me, I had to figure it out on my own. I knew school was probably somewhere I should go, so I enrolled in professional theatre school at Dawson College. I was 16 when I was accepted and my mother drove me and picked me up every single day, she did the same thing when I played water polo. A few days after I got my license though, she pulled up at the house in a red Chrysler Neon and was like, ‘you want that car?’ and bought it for me so I could get myself to school and she could have a bit more freedom again.
In your early career, you shortened your name to Tiio to make it easier for others. But now, you go by your full name. Did this change coincide with other perspectives in your life?
My mother always said to never shorten our names and that you have to be patient when someone is learning how to pronounce it. In theatre school the only person I let call me Tiio was my movement teacher Cynthia, mostly because I was terrified of her (in a good way).
When I graduated it was like 20 years ago, and some things have changed since then. My reps and I agreed that shortening my name would be a good idea so we don’t ‘alienate’ people when they’re trying to pronounce it or something along those lines. I only let a few people call me Tiio now.
Truly deep down I hate being called Tiio, my full name isn’t that hard to pronounce and I think people should just get over their own insecurities and show some respect by giving it a try. Not just my name, but all unique names, I mean wouldn’t the world be boring if we were all called ‘mark, bob, steph and sara?’(no offence to those names… my dad’s name is Bob).
Letterkenny’s 12th and final season premiered on Christmas Day. What are your thoughts (and feelings) about the show coming to an end? How hard will it be to say goodbye?
I love my cast mates and I think all good things must come to an end. Tanis is a bad ass and she was formed during a very different and difficult time in my life. I am happy to lay her to rest and am extremely proud of the impact that she has made in terms of representation in popular culture.
In your mind, what will the next few years of Tanis’ life look like? How will you picture her in years to come?
Tanis probably has a few kids, maybe settles down for a bit. Runs a couple of businesses where she employs her
family members. She probably has raffles and grocery bingos on her rez during the holidays. She’s a big part of her
Tell me about Shoresy. There’s a marked difference in Indigenous representation here vs Letterkenny. How deliberate was that? What is your favourite thing about your work as a Producer?
I think if you are making a show about hockey in Canada it would be insane not to include Indigenous people. We invented the sport and are a huge part of the landscape that is hockey all across the country. I think Shoresy having so many Indigenous characters only makes sense and when you have a show that has multiple Indigenous characters you are able to diversify our representation.
I loved helping to find each character’s looks in the first season with the costume department. Ginger and I developed Tanis together over the years and we made a lot of contacts with Indigenous artists and designers. She took those connections and worked with the actors to create each of their unique looks.
You worked alongside Anna Kendrick when filiming Alice Darling. Is it true that you had to coach her on her Canadian accent?
Anna was really interesting to work alongside, I don’t think anyone has seen her play something like this. She was so vulnerable in the role she was playing and it was really my job to just support her throughout her process. Anything she needed I was happy to provide, running lines, trying scenes a different way, anything.
There was once where we joked she should add in an ‘eh’, and she did it and did it well! But unfortunately that didn’t make it into the final cut.
Seeds, your feature directorial debut, will be released in 2024. How did the idea for Seeds begin? Writing, producing, directing and leading is no small undertaking. Has your expectation met reality? Do you enjoy all four hats?
I was on a really hard shoot somewhere in New York State and I just thought ‘I wanna make a movie that takes place in one location, with stunts and blood and stuff, and where I can just wear sweatpants the whole time. So it started with a Home Alone influence, home invasion, and I thought it would be funny if the bad guy was trying to get some corn, beans and squash seeds that I had to protect. That is how it began.
I have so much story inside me that I am relizing I need to express, I enjoyed the process so much. It may have been one of the hardest things I have ever done in my entire life aside from an emergency C-section after 4 days of induced labour. I think I mostly kept my cool and surrounded myself with incredible people who supported me every single step of the way. I love, love, love collaborating with talented people.
Writing for me is the hardest, but it’s very fun and I am willing to practice and learn as much as I can about it. Directing, oddly enough, came sort of easy to me. I’ve worked with so many terrible directors that instinctively I knew what NOT to do, and I’ve worked with some amazing ones (Jacob Tierney for one) and took some tips from those experiences. When I do this again I will not be writing myself into almost every scene, that’s for damn sure.
How similar is Ziggy, and her process of ‘finding her power along the way’, to your own experiences?
I think art imitating life or vice versa is pretty real. In the last few years I have truly found my footing in this world and that is thanks to a lot of things including becoming a mother.
My son has guided me, has made me stronger, and has elevated my outlook on myself. He forced me to face my own traumas before he even made it earth-side. I am kinder to myself because of my son and I think being kind to yourself is a strength.
What do you like to do when you’re in Ottawa? Any favourite places, restaurants or spots?
I love hanging with my dad and going to visit my sister Waneek and her kids. I get my brows done by Mary Deng at Eye Love Beauty Bar (look her up, she’s incredible, Ottawa is lucky to have her). I don’t really go out, but I love to order from Gongfu Bao and EVOO on Preston and have drinks at Belmont. I love taking my son to see the cows at the experimental farm.
How would you describe Ottawa to someone who has never been?
The perfect size for a city, not too much traffic, tons to do on the weekends for families especially, everyone pretty much takes the native status card without a fuss (that’s a big deal). The city is definitely upping its restaurant game, that’s for sure… and 9 times out of 10 you can find parking. Also the children’s hospital is amazing, I love CHEO.
This is our January issue. Most people either love or hate New Years Eve, which are you?
I used to put so much importance on it for some stupid reason, I don’t even understand why. When I partied hard it was so important to me, now I seriously couldn’t care less about it. Last year I was in bed by 11 and totally content.
Are you someone who makes resolutions?
I don’t make those anymore either, I think it’s an unnecessary pressure that by March goes out the window. I think I just set some intentions and reflect on all of the awesome things I accomplished the year before.
What are three things you’d tell your younger self, given the chance?
1- Be kind to yourself, put yourself and your well being first. You don’t have to kill yourself to succeed. Self care is a necessity.
2- Therapy is awesome.
3- Low rise jeans are trash
What’s your favourite movie of all time?
Drop Dead Gorgeous
What’s your all-time favourite meal?
Spaghetti Pomodoro with a side arugula salad, a margherita pizza and for dessert some form of ice cream.
What’s something that people would be surprised to know about you?
I studied to be a yoga teacher in my early 20s. I did 8 out of the 10 modules but had to leave because the show I was on got cancelled and I had to go to LA for pilot season.
What’s the best or most memorable concert you’ve ever been to?
OH MY GOODNESS Rage Against the Machine last summer at Bluesfest, but also Bjork when I was 19 and Yeah Yeah Yeahs opened for her.
What’s your best advice for aspiring actors?
Lean in to what makes you different and what makes you stand out. Always enter an audition with choices.