Theresa Westhaver: the reluctant champion is energetic for everything else

One of Canada’s most notable sustainability champions is among us, busy doing her thing with meaningful work that can’t be calculated on a balance sheet or annual report.

Theresa Westhaver has a lot on the go, and so it came as a fair shock when a colleague wanted to nominate her for theTop 30 Under 30 Sustainability Leaders list, produced by Corporate Knights, a sustainability organization.

The webpage containing the list says that it highlights Canadians who are “using their skills to bend the arc of history toward a more just and sustainable future.”

“It feels a little bit strange to me,” Westhaver said, talking about the projects that she’s involved in as grassroots efforts to build community and make opportunities for youth.

“I looked at the list for last year. It just didn't really make sense to me. I don't think I belong on this list. It was very different from the type of things that I did, I guess. When they sent me the questions like, ‘What are your concrete outcomes?’, I don't think I can really quantify what we do in the same way. I don't really see it as a numbers thing at all. That's never really crossed my mind.”

She was doubly shocked when she got the phone call back in August to say that she made it.

Corporate Knights is a sustainable-economy media and research group whose mission is to advance “an economic system in which both people and the planet can thrive.”

The business produces global sustainability rankings, research reports and financial product ratings based on corporate sustainability performance with its flagship list being the “Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World” that is released annually during the World Economic Forum.

“Its name suggests it seems like it's more sustainability in the business world and social change in industry and the corporate world, which is not really my world at all,” the 29-year-old Jasper native with proud Secwépemc, Métis, Cree, and settler ancestry said.

Westhaver's world has some large continents on it, it seems.

After returning from her maternity leave this past summer, she took a position as the Indigenous liaison for Jasper National Park, where she regularly communicates with representatives from more than 20 Indigenous communities with historical connections who have voices on park management, operations and projects.

Previously, she was an outdoor environmental educator at the Palisades Centre, a dream job that she found inspirational in many ways.

Mothering a young child is enough of a full-time job in and of itself, and it comes with its own joys. She’s thrilled that she has the opportunity to raise her child knowing the traditional language of Secwépemctsín, which she is taking night courses to learn herself. Westhaver is halfway through a language proficiency program through Simon Fraser University.

She’s no stranger to the classroom or the educational field trip, both of which were part of her post-secondary education in glacial geomorphology through the University of Northern B.C.

Those experiences must have weighed into her decision to be the co-founder of an educational non-profit called Howl Experience, a transformational learning experience for youths to help them build relationships with their communities and ecosystems in a way that helps them all thrive.

The program is based out of Canmore, but a chapter has opened up in the Yukon as well. In January, it will be launching its first full semester with a cohort of 20 students.

“Our goal audience is at least 50 per cent Indigenous, people with financial barriers or otherwise marginalized youth who maybe just don't see themselves in those leadership roles or haven't had the opportunity to do programs like this that just give them a chance to see what's out there and see their own potential,” Westhaver said.

Its last few programs have run with 80 per cent Indigenous enrollment and every aspect of the programming is infused with Indigenous knowledge thanks to Indigenous staff, knowledge keepers and elders, she said.

On top of all that, she has a business on the side. Mountain Stek’lep (previously known as Left Coast Collective) offers upcycled beadwork. Lately, she has been staying up past midnight in preparation for the massive three-day Holiday Market at the River Cree Resort and Casino in Enoch, just outside of Edmonton.

During the summer, she also worked as an icefield guide, and she hopes to expand her own future schedule further and is in the process of applying for her permits and licensing to start her own guiding business.

In her free time, Westhaver gets in as much cross-country skiing and touring as you might expect.

“Life has definitely shifted a lot in the last few years but I love being outside any chance I get.”

Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh