June is National Indigenous History Month and the FNHA is celebrating the rich history, heritage, resilience, and diversity of its staff members.
Ever since she can remember, Courtney (Ti'yuqtunat) Defriend has been learning to walk in two worlds.
Courtney is of mixed First Nations and European ancestry. Her father's family is primarily Scottish, whereas her mother is of mixed Coast Salish First Nation and European ancestry. After her parents separated when she was five years old, Courtney was raised by her mom about 10 minutes away from Stz'uminus First Nation reserve. From her mother and mother's family she learned about First Nations culture and teachings. “I was raised by my Indigenous mom, who was raised by her Indigenous mom and there's a lot of teachings in our local territory around the matriarchs."
“I'm primarily European by blood quantum. There is this colonial, violent perspective on blood quantum and appearance, and being native enough, and status and legislation. So that's really been positioned in my life."
Growing up, Courtney experienced a constant tension where people wanted her to identify with one part of her heritage versus another. “When I started at public school, my mother checked that box that said Indigenous," says Courtney. My father was really reluctant to have us raised in the culture, and said that we weren't First Nations."
“In the 90s, I was identified as Indigenous at school and when I was disruptive in class, I was immediately sent to the special needs room which was actually all Indigenous kids. When they realized I was too smart for the classroom, they put me a grade ahead."
Courtney found herself trying to navigate these two identities separately, walking in one world at a time. “There is a constant reinforcement of being wrong in both settings. I got to a point where I didn't want to continue to feel wrong all the time."
Courtney began to embrace her mixed heritage and found a way to walk in both worlds by using her unique perspective to be of service to her community. “I think that I have had a lot of protection with my fair skin around first-hand trauma which can be experienced with racist encounters. I see this as a huge gift and obligation to leverage that privilege in order to advocate with that inherent cultural and traditional knowledge that I've been raised with, at tables that don't often accept First Nations people."
“I've really applied myself seriously to take advantage of all of the opportunities I can to sit at a white or colonial table and insert within their way, how we do things. Courtney recently completed her doctorate, where she used entirely Indigenous methodologies and teachings. Her work was recognized by one of Canada's oldest and most prestigious awards, the Governor General's Gold medal.
Five years ago, Courtney received her traditional name, Ti'yuqtunat from her grandmother. “The gift of a traditional name has been such a healing journey around identity and belonging" says Courtney. “My traditional name was given to me by my grandmother and it was her great-great grandmother's name. I remember getting to a point in my life that I was tired about worrying about how people were going to challenge whether I belong or didn't belong and I just felt like this was between me and my ancestors. I'm just going to move in the direction that I feel that I need to go and the universe will provide where you're supposed to be."