Chelsea Caldwell: Fighting the Good Fight

Written By: Nicola Shaw, JGI Canada Volunteer
Category: Our Champions

Our outstanding board is made up of individuals who are leaders in their field and committed to seeing changes that make our communities sustainable. We spoke with Board member Chelsea Caldwell, lawyer and passionate advocate for social justice, when she attended the launch of a Roots & Shoots initiative focused on working with Indigenous youth called Uncovering Common Ground.

Name: Chelsea Caldwell
Job Title: Legal Counsel with the Department of Justice Canada
JGI Canada Board Title: Board Member, Chair of the Roots and Shoots Committee and Secretary of the Executive Committee
Hometown: Winnipeg, Manitoba
Favourite animals: Dogs and horses, but specifically Gus, my sister’s wonderful Labrador retriever
An interesting fact about you: I used to be a competitive flatwater kayaker

Chelsea spoke about her role with JGI and Roots & Shoots at the recent Uncovering Common Ground launch event.

How and why did you first become involved with the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada?
A professor of mine in undergrad was on the Board of Directors at JGI Canada and he mentioned that I should look into joining the Board myself. At that time, I already knew and respected Dr. Goodall from seeing her speak and watching documentaries about her. I already had an interest in the history and politics of people, animals, and the planet, and I admired how the Institute has an ethos that highlights this interconnectedness.

Can you describe your role on the Board of Directors?
I am the Chair of the Roots & Shoots committee, as well as the Secretary on the Executive Committee of the Board. As a board member, I am involved in bi-monthly board meetings and two retreats in Toronto every year. There I meet with the office staff, learn about what’s going on and discuss finances, programmatic planning and ongoing events. The board is a mix of people, personalities, and professions, and all of these unique backgrounds come together like a mosaic.

What are some lessons that you have learned from the Roots & Shoots program?
Dr. Goodall is known for her work with chimpanzees because that’s where she started, but a lot of people don’t understand that her legacy is in Roots and Shoots. Our legacy is children. When Jane speaks at her events, she comments about how excited she is to see Roots & Shoots grow. I have learned that we need to have more faith in our youth; as much as we think they’re naïve or unsure, it’s those qualities that make them invaluable because they think anything is possible. With Roots & Shoots, we help make youth feel like the impossible is possible.

Chelsea with Elder Cat Criger and his partner Cheryl, who graciously attended the UCG conference to share Indigenous knowledge and teachings.

You attended the launch of Uncovering Common Ground, how did it feel to be a part of the program?
Uncovering Common Ground is a new initiative that falls under the Roots & Shoots umbrella. It brings together Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth participants from provinces where I’ve spent a lot of time; the youth from Manitoba are from my hometown, some of the youth from British Columbia live where my father grew up and still has family, and the youth from Ontario live where I have lived for the past five years. I also have a personal connection to the Indigenous youth because I have Métis ancestry on my mother’s side.

Overall, this event spoke to me because I identify so strongly with the participants in age, background and interest. I have to give credit to everyone for how honest they were in that setting. It’s humbling. It’s therapeutic. It’s inspiring. It reminds us why we’re here and doing what we’re doing.

Are there any other overlaps between your own work and other JGI Canada programs?
I work in the Department of Justice. Every day, I have to make decisions that will or will not positively impact taxpayers, and I have to consider what is the best use of their money. The Jane Goodall Institute of Canada office is trusted to do the same, and do good work, all in the name of saving the planet. We’re both working towards a better world. We’re both fighting the good fight.

Hanna Smit