Cliff diving tragedy claims a young life at Birch Island

Brian ‘Beej’ Waboose Jr. passed away following a cliff-diving accident last Friday, July 24.

BIRCH ISLAND – Whitefish River First Nation is mourning the loss of citizen Jadesheens, whose English name is Brian ‘Beej’ Waboose Jr., who died while swimming and cliff jumping this past Friday, July 24. He leaves behind a partner, three children, family members and dear friends who say he made the most of his 29 years before beginning his journey to the spirit world.

“‘Be somebody,’ is what he always said. And he lived that in everything he did,” said Jadesheens’ godmother and aunt Rose Jacko. He was her first nephew.

Jadesheens was the eldest son of renowned artist Brian Waboose and Iris Waboose, and had two sisters, Amy and Jennifer. The family has had a sacred fire burning and hosted a sunrise ceremony this past Monday, July 27.

“He was the older one so I gave him all my tough teachings,” said Mr. Waboose.

“It’s sudden. It leaves us in a state where we’re unable to say our goodbyes because it was so quick, so fast. Right now we’re just trying to process and trying to get through each day,” added Ms. Jacko.

In the early evening hours of Friday, July 24, members of the UCCA Anishnaabe Police Service and the Manitoulin Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Marine Unit were dispatched to the waters just off Sunshine Alley Road on Whitefish River First Nation.

It was reported that a group of people were cliff jumping into the water when a male did not resurface after a jump. Other persons at the scene attempted to look for the male but were unsuccessful. The OPP Marine Unit was dispatched and conducted unsuccessful search and rescue attempts.

On Saturday, July 25, the OPP Underwater Search and Recovery Unit attended the location and recovered the body of Jadesheens. The Ontario coroner’s office was contacted and a post mortum examination was ordered.

Jangweshens’ love for the water came in part from his father, who also enjoyed diving. His spirit name means Little Mink.

“We were just talking about that this morning, how his name really represents him,” said Ms. Jacko. “He loved the water—that was his go-to, he was always on the water.”

Jangweshens spent much time outdoors between his loves of fishing (ice and open-water), hunting, skiing and diving.

He was also active in the sporting world. He played for the Birch Island Warriors and made it to Junior A level in hockey. He spent summers on the baseball diamond and was set to play for the Wiikwemkoong team this summer.

But his true passion was found in all of his family and friend relations. Jangweshens was a father to three children—Jackson, age 12, Rayden, age eight and Avery, age three.

A scroll through Jangweshens’ Facebook page strongly attests to that passion. Nearly every photo posted there includes his children, nieces and nephews or his partner Tanya Osawanimiki, along with descriptions that attested to his love for them.

One such post went up on June 3 with a photo of Jangweshens with his three children, including son Jackson in his Grade 8 graduation gown.

“Just know whatever it is you decide to do, dad will be right behind you. To catch you if you fall, or if you need that little bit of motivation. I’ll always be here for you son. Dad loves you, young man, stay deadly,” he wrote in the caption.

For Ms. Osawanimiki, the loss is especially tough as the two are expecting their first child in October. 

“There were times where he didn’t feel like he was really worthy but I’d always tell him ‘you don’t know how amazing you are.’ Everyone he was around, he always brought them up and made them happy. He had such an impact,” said Ms. Osawanimiki.

She has three young children of her own and Jangweshens worked to improve their bravery, confidence and skills—especially with activities like hockey and fishing.

“He taught them to not be afraid, give life your all, ‘be somebody,’” said Ms. Osawanimiki. “Even my kids say that now, and my youngest son just said to me, ‘he was somebody.’ I don’t think (Jangweshens) realized how many people he had an impact on.”

One consistent line throughout all of his photos is that Jangweshens was always looking his best.

“He always smiled, loved taking pictures—I swear he should have been a model,” said Ms. Jacko with a laugh.

He and younger sister Amy Waboose were ‘inseparable,’ according to family.

“He was my best friend. For anyone who knows us, we were always together. We’ve been through everything together. I lost a part of me when I lost him,” said Jangweshens’ sister Amy Waboose.

Those who knew him have called his life an example for how people should treat every moment.

“He enjoyed everything. Life was a great experience every day for him,” said Ms. Jacko. “‘This is the life,’ he said on his last day.”

Whitefish River First Nation Ogimaa Shining Turtle offered condolences on behalf of his community to Jangweshens and his family.

“With a small community of approximately 400, everyone knows everyone—we’re a tight, close-knit community. BJ loved his community and respected the areas around it,” the ogimaa wrote in a statement to The Expositor.

Jangweshens worked in the First Nation’s maintenance department until June and took pride in his roles and responsibilities, said Ogimaa Shining Turtle, adding that he was a pleasure to work with and all of his colleagues would be grieving the loss.

“We have truly lost a dear friend and a valued member of our community. We will provide details of the funeral services as soon as they are available from his family. We ask that you please keep BJ’s family in your prayers,” he concluded.