As It Happens

Webequie First Nation chief mourns death of teen who left community in search of counselling

Webequie First Nation Chief Cornelius Wabasse says too many Indigenous youth are forced to leave their communities to access basic services like counselling in urban centres.

The body of 17-year-old Braiden Jacob was found in Thunder Bay on Sunday

On Sunday, a body found in the Chapples Park area in Thunder Bay, Ont., was identified as 17-year-old Braiden Jacob from Webequie First Nation. (Thunder Bay Police Service/Supplied)


Last week, 17-year-old Braiden Jacob went missing.

For four days, family and volunteers searched Thunder Bay, Ont., looking for him. But on Sunday, police issued a news release that said they were investigating a "sudden death" in a local park. Members of the community confirmed Braiden's body had been found.

Jacob's family lives on the Webequie First Nation, an Oji-Cree community almost 600 kilometres away. They had travelled to Thunder Bay for counselling — services they couldn't get in their own community. 

Webequie Chief Cornelius Wabasse spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about the need for better access to basic support services in remote communities like his. 

Here is part of their conversation.

Chief Wabasse, first of all, my condolences to your community for your loss. Have you spoken to Braiden's family?

Yes I have, yesterday.

They were in town and they were having a hard time. Right now, they're OK. We have a lot of supports with them now.

Webequie Chief Cornelius Wabasse knows Braiden Jacob's family and was with them in Thunder Bay on Sunday night. He said the family was in town to get counselling. (Jody Porter/CBC)

Braiden was 17 years old. What was he doing in Thunder Bay?

He was here with his family doing family counselling. 

Why couldn't he get that counselling in Webequie?

Webequie is a remote community. We don't have the services over there or qualified services that the residential school survivors require. 

How important was getting that counselling for him?

For Braiden's family, it was a need for them because they've had previous losses for their family. So it was very important that they talk to somebody from outside. That's one of the other issues is sometimes the family needs to talk to somebody from the outside, rather than in the community. 

He was last seen about 9 p.m. and then disappeared after that. Is there foul play suspected? Are the police saying anything about that?

No, they haven't. When he disappeared that evening, there was no concern. But after being away overnight with no contact, that's when the family got concerned of him being away.

Braiden Jacob from Webequie First Nation. (Facebook)

Can you tell us anything about Braiden Jacob — what was he like?

He was a bright kid, Braiden. You know, just a young kid, energetic. [He] liked sports, hockey and going about with his friends. And just being in the community doing hunting and fishing — and going out to the land with hunters. Just being out there and having fun in the community.

And was he struggling?

He was because of the losses that he had in his family with the loss of a sister. Also, he had lost his dad previously.

So difficult. And again, the counselling he was getting in Thunder Bay, would it be helpful if he were able to get that in Webequie First Nation? 

It would have helped. But one of the biggest problems we have in our community is it's a remote community. We don't have the infrastructure and also the services that are required to have good counselling services in the community. 

The legacy of the deaths of Indigenous youth in Thunder Bay is quite extraordinary. Kids who come from different places because they don't have the schools, the high schools to go to. They don't have the services they need, like Braiden Jacob. They go to Thunder Bay because those basic things don't exist where they're from. And yet, so many kids have died while being in Thunder Bay. What difference would it make to your communities if kids didn't have to go away to Thunder Bay in order to get the services and education they need?

It would alleviate some of the problems that we have when we send our kids to an urban centre. Some of the kids that we send out to urban centres, they get into trouble.

They have culture shock or some other problems that are in those places where they're not used to. 

Written John McGill. Interview produced by Sarah-Joyce Battersby. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.