Monday, January 6, 2020 /
Christopher Britt doesn’t consider himself a daredevil, but he jumps at the chance to go heli-skiing on in the mountains bordering Canada and Alaska and surfing in Bali. “My brain is always on, so skiing and surfing – or putting on my goalie gear – are meditative and peaceful for me,” he says. “Risk leads to increased focus.”
Given his affinity for athletics, it made sense that Christopher gravitated to Lakehead’s Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism program.
“My time at Lakehead was one of the best chapters of my life. I’m grateful for all the educators I got to work with and learn from – Brent Cuthbertson, Tom Potter, Rodney Swatton, Sue Hamel, Connie Russell, Wayne Melville, Tom Puk, Rhonda Koster, Leonard Hutchison, and so many more.”
Dr. Brent Cuthbertson, in particular, had a lasting influence on Christopher. “I was a struggling 17-year old on his own for the first time. Brent took me under his wing and gave me wonderful opportunities, like becoming a field course instructor and running a lab. Those were huge character builders for me.”
Christopher also earned science and education degrees at Lakehead (both of his parents were teachers), which he now puts to use as the Xet’olacw Community School Administrative Coordinator. Located just north of Whistler in Lil’wat Territory, Xet’olacw is one of the largest First Nations schools in British Columbia. He also teaches a science class and runs the school’s co-op and skills link programs.
Before starting at Xet’olacw, he taught at a private girls’ school in Vancouver and earned a master’s degree at Royal Roads University in educational leadership. Christopher’s life seemed to be going smoothly when his mentor – Brent Cuthbertson – suddenly and tragically passed away at the age of 53. “It hit me really hard and I was in a terrible place for a while,” Christopher says.
Brent’s death prompted Christopher to leave his career in education and embark on a six-month ski and surf trip to Bali, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Australia, and New Zealand. “Part of that travel experience was to try to figure myself out,” he says.
In 2016, when Christopher returned to British Columbia, he planned to get back into guiding outdoor leadership, but an ad in a local Whistler newspaper for a social sciences and math teacher at Xet’olacw changed his mind.
“I fell in love with the school. It’s been incredibly restorative and healing. Barely a day goes by that I don’t think about sharing what I’m up to with Brent.”
Since Christopher started at Xet’olacw, his brother Taylor (high school science), his partner Laurin (Grade 2), and Christopher’s partner Stephanie (high school career and planning) have all begun teaching at Xet’olacw. “I am really fortunate that the family school I work at, has welcomed not just me but my family.”
As well as his work as an educator, Christopher is a tail guide with Yukon Alpine Heli Ski. “I serve as a support. After the skiers are flown up by helicopter, a lead guide takes skiers down the mountain and I follow behind.”
In 2017, Christopher and his boss at Heli Ski started a community outreach ski program for Christopher’s high school students. The students embraced the experience, prompting Christopher to hire two friends in the film industry to shoot a documentary about it.
“We wanted to celebrate how amazing and brilliant these kids are and highlight how important it is for ecotourism operators to connect with the First Nations communities that, by all legal rights, own the land they’re on.”
The documentary premiered at the 43rd American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco and was shown in Carcross Tagish, Lil’Wat, Erie, Toronto, and Montreal.
Christopher dedicated the project to Brent Cuthbertson.
“Brent had a beautiful simplicity in the way he listened to people – you felt you were being 100% appreciated. And he didn’t shy away from disagreeing with you – but he did it in a way that wasn’t confrontational.”
“I try to recreate that as much as I can with my students. If I can have the kind of impact Brent had on my life with just one kid, I will consider myself a success.”
Watch Christopher’s inspirational 14-minute documentary Belongs to the Youth: https://vimeo.com/301654243
Alumnus Christopher Britt (left) with his fellow filmmakers Joey Arseneau (centre), and Joey Bidner (right) at the 43rd American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco for the premiere of their documentary.