Breaking Cycles and Dancing in Squares: Courtney Dawn Sets The Rhythm of a Life of Service
“It gets better,” Courtney Dawn Anaquod confides. She is a member of Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation in Treaty 4 territory, a square dancer, jigging instructor and champion dancer, a model and director of a teen parent center. Growing up, she was bullied over her braces and her skin colour. Her lineage is a blend of Cree, Saulteaux, Métis and Dutch and she was teased about being so much fairer than her father, that she must be adopted. Anaquod struggled in school with ADHD and was judged for being a tomboy, but with the help of three teachers, she graduated high school after seven years.
“I wasn't pretty enough, I was known as the ugly duckling. A lot of those words put a damper on my self confidence and my self esteem.”
Her difficult journey led to alcoholism, depression, domestic violence, mental health challenges and feeling like she’d lost track of her identity, her spirituality and her cultural side. The suicide of her brother impacted her and she left violent relationships three times, starting from when she was 15. Leaving was hard because her former partner would stalk her and she had to go into hiding because she was not safe.
“Through all these years and working on that healing process, I've learned to realize it was not about me.”
It’s been ten years since she left and she’s uncovered coping mechanisms to deal with the PTSD. She uses positive self-talk, breath work, listens to music or goes for a walk. She had to learn to forgive him and herself so that she could heal. She had guilt over her kids being exposed to the violence but she has since found self love and self worth.
Anaquod traced the root of being in those kinds of relationships to childhood abandonment issues, feelings of neglect, leading to codependency. She grew up with family members in cycles of addictions, gang affiliations, witnessing domestic violence and hearing about the intergenerational trauma of residential schools in her family. Those experiences growing up were stepping stones to her work in mental health and addictions and working with youth.
Beyond the technical skill of jigging, she teaches the mental health benefits of the practice, depending on the age of the students. She’s engaged in a research project around the mental health benefits of jigging. As a role model and mentor for the Saskatoon Public School Board for the last six years, she has worked with youth to try and be there for them and help them see change is possible, someone she wishes she had in her life growing up.
She doesn’t consider her work to be a career, but more of a passion or calling. Anaquod started researching mental health to be able to understand and communicate with her brother. He inspired her to get involved with the mental health field, to support people who are undiagnosed or misunderstood. “I want to be that voice since I have a big voice and I can use it,” she explains.
“I love working with these young parents, because they remind me of me, when I was there,” she reflects. She’s able to guide them because she knows what happens next. Anaquod doesn’t just support young moms, she also helps dads and even non-parents who are really struggling with bullying.
Describing food as her love language, Anaquod likes to feed youth and spend time with them so they can open up about what’s bothering them. That’s a process that takes time. “Sometimes I don't have the answers because I'm not an answer person. I have to actually listen to their truth and figure out the best possible solution for them at that time, putting them first and meeting them where they are at, helping them look at it differently and their behavior differently too and creating those opportunities that fit for them. It's a lot of work. It's not easy, because every youth is different,” she shares.
Building that rapport lets youth talk about what’s going on in their lives and opens them up to uplifting messages. She likes helping youth find successful strategies and their path forward. If she could go back and talk to her younger self she would say, “Don't be afraid. Take every opportunity that comes your way. Don't let fear get in the way of what you want to do. Persevere through it.”
That bravery of Anaquod’s helped her land work as a model. As a teen she wanted to model but her family wasn’t able to be mobile enough to support her in doing so. Later in life, someone who hired her for a jigging workshop and then a square dance workshop in a Métis community was also a fashion designer who asked her to model for her at Regina Fashion Week. She was later invited to model in Dubai but it didn’t come to pass. Instead of heading to Dubai, she ended up being an extra in a movie with Chuck Liddell.
When it comes to chasing her dreams, Anaquod is brave. “I did not let the biggest thing that I was so afraid of, fear, get in the way of it, telling myself that I'm worth all of this no matter how much I was belittled and bullied. I took all of that and pushed even harder to be where I am today, and taking every opportunity that comes my way because I know if I don't take an opportunity, I'll never know where it will take me next,” she recalls.
The “ugly duckling” turned into a model and a role model, and now Anaquod is showing up and standing tall. She follows her passion without fear and helps teen parents follow in her footsteps as she jigs. After overcoming bullying, domestic violence, alcoholism and despair, Courtney Dawn Anaquod is showing the youth she works every day that like she said, “It gets better” as she sets the rhythm of her life of service.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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