The NWT has a lost a longtime advocate for Indigenous traditional knowledge and the welfare of children.

Barney Masuzumi died of a stroke on Aug. 21 at his home in Tuktoyaktuk. He was 74.

Masuzumi was born in Big Rock, NWT, a traditional hunting and fishing ground located between Tsiigehtchic and Fort Good Hope, said his wife Georgina Jacobson-Masuzumi.

Barney Masuzumi, front centre, joined the Centennial Voyageurs of the Northwest Territories for a 5,283-km canoe journey across Canada in 1967. Photo courtesy of Georgina Jacobson-Masuzumi

“Families used to go there and fish in the summer and then go back to Fort Good Hope or Tsiigehtchic. It was a gathering spot because fishing was plentiful,” she said.

He moved frequently growing up, living between Aklavik, Fort Good Hope and Colville Lake, where his father owned a store.

Childhood friend Gene Oudzie remembers spending many summers in the bush hunting with Masuzumi, an activity the pair enjoyed for at least a decade.

“It was always one thing: moose,” Oudzie said, adding that they had a lot of fun together. “We used to party lots together in our 20s and 30.”

Masuzumi contracted tuberculosis and spent some time in Fort Smith, where he also attended Grandin College, a residential school.

In 1967, he joined the Centennial Voyageurs of the Northwest Territories in a 25-foot canoe for a 5,283-km journey across Canada, according to Sport North.

His team of 10 paddlers left Rocky Mountain House, Alta. on May 24, 1967 and arrived in Montreal on Sept. 4. The trip included 113 km of portaging.

In the early 1990s, Masuzumi studied environmental science, anthropology and political science at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. That sparked his longstanding advocacy of Indigenous environmental knowledge.

“He was a hunter, a teacher, a trapper and a renewable resource officer. He was a little brainiac. He wrote papers for a lot of people, including for (former premier) Stephen Kakfwi. He took policy legislation and broke it down for regular people to understand,” said his wife.

His research focused on biodiversity and the connections between Indigenous knowledge and languages and renewable resources. His wrote papers for the Dene Cultural Institute and the GNWT, among others. He also served as a board member for the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board in the 1990s.

Jacobson-Masuzumi remembers her husband’s international research trips that took him as far afield as Malaysia, Panama, Spain and Slovakia when he worked for the United Nations-affiliated Convention on Biological Diversity.

“He represented the Indigenous people of Canada. He brought traditional knowledge to as many people as he could and how important it is to retain that,” she said. “He was all about the people. He always had his doors open to everybody.”

When the couple moved to Tuktoyaktuk in 1999, Masuzumi began his work with local children.

“He kept his door open to kids whose parents were drinking, and he let them stay the night. And he fed them, and my son Seth played games with them. Everybody in Tuk was aware of that. Those kids will miss him a hell of a lot. He had time for youth and for Elders. We went through lots of hardship together and he made that easier because he made me aware that where’s a will there’s a way,” said Jacobson-Masuzumi.

Wayne Kakfwi, a friend who lives in Norman Wells, said Masuzumi would buy groceries and food for the kids.

“I sent him some money and he spent most of it on food for children. He wasn’t worried about himself, he was worried about the children,” Kakfwi said. “He had a heart like that.”

Masuzumi is survived by his wife, children Seth Masuzumi, Ramal Seepish, Ira Timothy, Oneida Carr, stepson Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson and 17 grandchildren.

Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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  1. A very fitting tribute to such a great man, our friend, Barney
    I am honored to have walked with Barney
    He left a good mark here on earth

  2. This is a wonderful biography! Any possibility that a documentary can be made? Did you know that his son Ramal still hasn’t been granted official Dene First Nations status. This needs to be corrected asap.
    #grantramalfnstatus.