Bernadette Pearl Verda TENNING
It is with profound sadness, we announce the passing of Bernadette (Bernie) Tenning (nee Twins/aka Pocha) on Tuesday, April 11, 2023 at Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton, AB at the age of 62 after a ferocious 7-year battle with stage 4 metastatic cancer. She was surrounded by her three children, her
son-in-law and two grandsons in her final days. Her life ended with dignity and her death was peaceful.
Bernie was born Bernadette Twins on May 19, 1960 at Holy Family Hospital in Prince Albert, SK to her mother Rosemary Pocha and her father Alexis Twins. She was raised in Prince Albert and Saskatoon, SK with her siblings John Twins, Shannon (Sam) Pocha and Tracey Pocha. Bernie attended Princess Alexandra Elementary School and Bedford Road Collegiate in Saskatoon, SK.
Bernie met her first husband Robert (Bob) Tenning and, they married shortly after her 16th birthday on June 19, 1976 and gave birth to her eldest daughter, Bliss Charmaine Tenning on August 1, 1976. Bernie and Bob raised their daughter together in Saskatoon for approx. 5 years before divorcing in 1981. Shortly afterward, Bernie started dating Roy Smith and they welcomed their daughter, Danielle Ariana Smith on Oct 8, 1982 and, their son Dustin Lear Smith on March 30, 1984. Bernie and Roy raised their three children together as common-law spouses and partners in Saskatoon, SK for the next 26 years. With their daughter Danielle, they welcomed their first grandchild Keishawn Fehr-Smith on April 30,
1999. Bernie and Roy separated in 2007 and Bernie moved to Edmonton, AB at the end of 2007 to be closer to her daughter Danielle and her grandson Keishawn.
In between periods as a stay at home mother, Bernie also worked several jobs as a Nurse’s Aid at Central Haven Special Care Home and Saskatoon Veteran’s Home, as an Electronics Assembler at Microtel and Senior Electronics Assembler at SED Systems and Traxis Inc.
Bernie was extremely intelligent and loved to learn. In 1992, she decided to continue her education and got her Grade 12 diploma through an adult education program at Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies (SIIT) in 1993. She then went on to pursue post-secondary education at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon and in 1999, Bernie earned a 4 year Bachelor of Science (BSc.) degree with honors, in Biology majoring in Anthropology and, a 3 year BSc. degree in Geography.
As a summer student, Bernie worked as the Provincial Office Coordinator for the Saskatchewan Forum for Racialized Canadians Inc. in 1995; as an Office Assistant at the Saskatchewan Intercultural Association in 1998 and; as an Office Assistant at the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) in 1996 & 1997. With the City of Saskatoon, Bernie helped organize the first National Aboriginal Day
celebrations in Saskatoon and, organized the 1997 Saskatchewan Indian Sports Hall of Fame Induction.
Bernie prepared the proposal for the King George Adult Literacy Program, for which SIIT later hired her as the Instructor for the Adult 10 & 12 programs from 1999 to 2003. Bernie was extremely dedicated to helping her students achieve their goals of continuing their education and achieving their dreams.
Bernie began working as an Environmental Consultant for Red Stone Environmental in 1999 where she investigated and reported on the biology aspect of the potential contamination of groundwater supplies for the Long Plain First Nation in Manitoba. She also completed geographical work including the socioeconomic concerns surrounding the successful Peter Ballantyne First Nation Timber License Agreement.
Bernie returned to working as an Environmental Consultant, Advisor & Manager at West Wind Environmental Inc. from 2004 to 2006 where she managed West Wind Environmental and acted as project manager for specific environmental projects. She also functioned as liaison/advisor to the Federal Government and First Nations and, acted as Provincial Pathfinder and Provincial Program Manager for the Aboriginal and Northern Community Action Program (ANCAP). Bernie assisted communities to develop renewable and alternative energy resources on First Nations lands by managing logistics, community & government relations and provided funding advice for Indigenous Services Canada (formerly INAC) and various First Nations, to obtain funds for projects including: Wind Monitoring Workshop on behalf of Cowessess & Gordon First Nations; to incorporate energy efficiency into schools on Sturgeon Lake First Nation; hydro feasibility for Black Lake Denesuline First Nation (Tazi Twe Hydro) & James Smith Cree Nation (Pehonan Hydro); for wind assessments for Cowessess & Gordon First Nations and; for Community Energy Baseline Assessments (CEBAs) for 15 Saskatchewan First Nations.
From 2006 to 2008, as President and owner of Indigenous Earth Solutions Inc. (IESI), Bernie worked as Director, Biologist/Technician with the Aboriginal Inland Habitat Initiative (AHIP) in contract positions for the FSIN and Alberta First Nations Technical Services Advisory Group. Bernie coordinated, developed and promoted the AHIP program with the First Nations of Alberta, networked with other technicians and workers in fisheries, and liaised with government officials on high-level issues regarding fisheries, fish habitat and environmental assessments.
Bernie designed and facilitated traditional ecological knowledge holder training sessions to collect data for the Cumulative Environmental Management Association for their surface water-ground water interaction report. She conducted a water quality assessment for the Joslyn Total Public Inquiry and,
managed the process to create the Source Water Protection Plan for Driftpile First Nation.
Bernie was acknowledged in the Boreal Learning Network: Summary Report, Session One. Bernie presented “An Overview of ANCAP Energy Efficiency Strategies” at various functions throughout Canada over a 4-year period and, assisted in developing energy efficient buildings and sound energy
management practices. She made numerous presentations, and facilitated capacity-building workshops for the Aboriginal Inland Habitat Program for the FSIN and, participated on the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) of North America – Engaging Indigenous Communities in the Work of the CEC. Bernie was also published in McGraw-Hill Ryerson’s SciencePower 10 and SciencePower 7 textbooks under the “Ask an Expert” series.
Bernie briefly returned as an adult education Instructor for Red Earth First Nation in SK at Cumberland College in 2010-11. Bernie also worked as an Account Manager at ALS Environmental, Edmonton Centre of Excellence in 2012 and as a First Nation Engagement Specialist for SNC Lavalin from 2012-2013.
Bernie took time off between 2009 and 2015 to devote time to spending time with her grandson and to do some travelling & rediscover herself – she visited family in SK, AB & BC and travelled to Jamaica and Seattle. She met new people, made friends and helped several people who were struggling as she had once struggled in her life.
In 2016, Bernie was diagnosed with Stage 2 Breast Cancer and after having surgery to remove tumors, learned the cancer had metastasized to her bones in her spine and hip and, was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic cancer. She fought like the warrior woman she always was, relentlessly researching, advocating for herself & others and doing what she could to raise awareness. In 2019, she ran the 5K CIBC Run for the Cure.
With her daughter Danielle, she welcomed her second grandchild, Remington Holden Smith on May 18, 2022 one day before her 62 nd birthday. He was 12 weeks premature but grew into a healthy, happy baby boy and she spent as much time as she could with him while she was able.
Bernie was very dedicated to her family- particularly to her spouse, children and grandchildren who were everything to her. She loved her Grandsons fiercely and was very proud of her family. However, she was also very dedicated and did everything she could despite limited resources, to help/support her siblings and their children as well as other family members whenever possible.
Bernie gave selflessly and helped people in need whenever she could. She once saw a woman in a grocery store with children, trying to pay for Christmas groceries with Welfare Food Vouchers and having to put things back. Once the woman left, my mother begged the Manager for her name and address (which was not easy for her, as she was very shy in some ways) and, although it was against the rules, she convinced him to give it to her. She took up a collection from family and friends, asked her spouse to use some of their own money (to which he readily agreed) and they purchased over $300 in groceries and toys. She then enlisted her spouse & children to deliver everything one night just before
Christmas with a card, that said only Merry Christmas- from Santa. No explanation or names were provided and this was long before any such programs like this existed. We all very young kids but it was one of the best Christmas gifts & lessons our mother ever gave us… she showed us the true spirit of Christmas.
Bernie also helped a Sudanese woman with five children escape her abusive husband after meeting her in the hospital and after checking on them at Christmas, Bernie even gave the woman her last $500 after seeing they were without heat. Bernie brought them all to her house and they celebrated together. They remained close friends for years. Bernie helped many other people in need, no matter how dire her own circumstances, without any expectation in return except to thrive and be happy.
Bernie was predeceased by her father Alexis Twins; her maternal Grandmother Violet Decker; maternal Grandfather Hubert Joseph Pocha and maternal step-grandfather Fred Louis Yahyahkeekoot Sr.; her sister Tracey Ann Pocha; her 1 st husband Robert (Bob) Tenning; as well as many beloved Aunts, Uncles, family & friends too numerous to mention.
Bernie is survived by her three children: Danielle Smith, Dustin Smith and Bliss Zelinsky (Tenning) & son- in-law Brad Zelinsky; her two grandsons Keishawn Fehr-Smith and Remington Smith; her brother John Twins & sister-in-law Alexis Twins (Simmons); her sisters Shannon (Sam) Mitchell (Pocha) and April Sawatzky (Morris); her ex-spouse Roy Smith and special friend Cedric Marquis; as well as many family & friends too numerous to mention.
Bernie loved music & dancing and enjoyed singing when she was alone. She loved books & movies and, enjoyed shopping, collecting antiques/vintage items, playing bingo and gambling. Bernie was a very talented artist: drawing, painting, macramé, stained glass, needlepoint and sewing- she excelled at everything she did. She was an avid gardener and enjoyed fishing & walking. Bernie loved nature and was dedicated to the environment. She loved animals, especially her dog Chica who was by her side for approx. 18 years. Bernie enjoyed a drink, a toke and a smoke and loved sitting in the sun during the day & by a fire in the evening.
Bernie went through tremendous challenges and suffered a lot of severe trauma in her life. Yet, being the fiercely independent, private, extraordinarily strong & proud Indigenous woman she was- she rarely spoke of it and overcame every single challenge/obstacle with strength, courage, grace, dignity and humility. Despite any challenge or obstacle- she became very successful and not only achieved but
surpassed her goals & dreams and did a lot of important work for Indigenous communities, people & the environment while doing everything she could to help others and, her raise her three children – who now have her character and, will pass on the lessons learned from her, to her grandsons and other loved
ones. That is her legacy and it is a great one.
Bernie fought very hard for her loved ones or what she believed in. She was relentless and did not compromise for anything or anyone. She went right to the wall for those she loved and for her beliefs, if only just for the principle.
Bernie never did anything half-way: she lived hard, loved hard, fought hard, played hard, worked hard, partied hard and, laughed the hardest. Everyone who ever had the privilege of making her laugh was rewarded with the most infectious, hearty laughter and a gorgeous smile to go with it. She will be always loved and tremendously missed.