The town of Smithers in Northwestern, BC is part of the traditional territory of the Witsuwit’en First Nation and is known nationally as a hub for the exploration industry, with a significant cluster of drilling, expediting, and related support industries. The town also has the second-highest number of PhD’s per capita in the province and is home to at least four locally started, $50 million companies that chose to remain headquartered there. With this ongoing growth, young families and seniors are drawn to economic opportunities in addition to the location’s vibrant arts scene, outdoor recreational pursuits, and natural, rugged beauty of the landscape. 
What this means is that the community’s most vulnerable become hyper-vulnerable among the affluent and privileged, widening the gap between the “haves” and “have nots”. The homeless frequently chose to live outside in a tent city or to couch surf rather than take up residence in the local shelter or seek out support services.
In this gap is where you’ll find Tianna Rasmussen, one of the co-coordinators of the Smithers Community Response Network (CRN). A woman of few words, she prefers action over small talk, and change over routine any day. Her days are never the same.
As a younger millennial, meaningful social interactions and relationships, learning, free-thinking and creativity, and a changing work environment are important to her. However, unlike the typical millennial, the aftereffects of Tianna’s tough and traumatic upbringing motivated her to turn to nature, the land, and the mountains for stability and peace. These experiences have given Tianna unique insight into some of the people she helps, and has allowed her to create trusting relationships in atypical ways with some of her community’s most vulnerable citizens.
We are very pleased to introduce Tianna to you as our volunteer of the month. Thank you, Tianna, for your commitment to creatively raising awareness of abuse, neglect, and self-neglect among the people in your community, and safely connecting those who most need support to meaningful resources and help.
A Free Spirit
Tianna is always on the move. Always.
Born and raised in Smithers, she moved around a lot for school or out of curiosity. She did some schooling in Vancouver, which is a 13-hour drive one-way from Smithers, and returned when she learned it didn’t quite fit with her. At 18, Tianna moved to Edmonton to “check out a big city”, and came back to Smithers after several months. “I like my mountains,” she quietly says. “Smithers is always going to be home.”
Her go-with-the-flow personality can also be seen in the work she chooses to do. Nothing is too big or too small, too easy or too hard for Tianna. In addition to acting as the co-coordinator of the Smithers CRN, she’s done everything from golf course maintenance, to managing the town’s pet store, to doing cleaning at the local hospital, to working at the local women’s safe house, the local hotel, the local tree nursery, and with the transgender community. Tianna is also the creator and administrator of the Magical Backyard Medicine’s Facebook community, which grows in numbers daily. Sometimes these jobs happen simultaneously. Sometimes not. Some jobs, she has held for years, while others are one-off gigs that require a few hours of her time.
“What I do in a week changes every time,” says Tianna. “I follow the tide. Whatever I am doing though, I like to stay outside as much as I can. I feel trapped if I’m inside too long.”
Her Relationship with Nature and Animals Runs Deep
Nature and the outdoors are Tianna’s medicine. “I like what the outside gives me. I like what animals give me. I’m the most happy and peaceful when I’m around them,” she says. “Sometimes the world gets loud. In nature, it’s quiet.”
She’s a collector of stones, leaves, flowers, and bark. “I have boxes, tubs, and shelves of treasures. I have so much now that I might as well live outside!” Tianna explains. “The best thing about collecting is the adventure that comes with it.”
She is also a dedicated “fur-mom” to four rescue dogs: 18-year-old Maggie; 15-year-old Trixie; 10-year-old Wishbone; and four-year-old Nova. “I love my senior dogs,” Tianna says. “We are together all the time and go on adventures every day.”
“The people in Tianna’s life haven’t been the most reliable,” continues Belinda Lacombe, BC CRN Regional Mentor for Northwestern BC. “She turned to the land for healing and to her trauma for wisdom on how to help others.”
She Offers a Unique Perspective to the CRN Work
Tianna came to learn about BC CRN three years ago at the Northern Society of Domestic Peace’s annual general meeting. “I basically recruited her into the role of CRN Coordinator,” says Belinda. “Carroll Airey, CRN Coordinator in neighbouring Houston, volunteered to work with Tianna from the start, and continues to do so today.”
“It feels like a long time ago, but World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) in 2020 was one of my favourite CRN events. We also called it Angels in the Community,” Tianna shares. “We crafted angel-shaped pins from wire and created gift bags that included cupcakes and treats. We delivered them to the local seniors’ home and frontline workers. It was the first WEAAD during COVID, and I think the gifts helped people feel a little better – they were so appreciative.”
WEAAD 2020 was just the start of what is steadily becoming a positive and lasting impact on the community. Her varied and diverse work experience, trauma-informed healing journey, and quiet disposition have earned the trust of some of the community’s most difficult-to-reach people.
“Tianna’s literally been all over Smithers, and as a result, has had the freedom to interact with people we can’t normally reach through regular CRN channels,” explains Belinda. “Having her in the coordinator role is a strategic move on our part as it has allowed us to connect with the homeless and transient members of the town to support.”
An example of how Tianna has done this can be seen through Precious Companions, a program that collects and distributes pet food donations to those who need it. (BC CRN provided funding for the pilot program.) “Individuals who may not reach out to help themselves, have reached out to the program because they need help to feed their dogs or cats,” says Belinda. “In this interaction, an important opportunity comes up where Tianna then connects the person to support services. This connection would not have happened any other way.”
Why Tianna is Our Volunteer of the Month
“Tianna is water,” continues Belinda. “She is so resilient. She just rolls elegantly to the next thing and keeps going.”
When we ask Tianna why she keeps going with BC CRN, she softly says: “My family was not good to their elders. There were all kinds of abuse. I’m not sure, but this may be the reason why I stay with the CRN…to have a different kind of conversation.”
For more information about the Smithers CRN or how you can support ‘Precious Companions’ and other CRN programs, please contact Tianna at email@example.com or Belinda at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Header Photo: Tianna is at one with nature, and calls Smithers home. All photos courtesy of T. Rasmussen.)