Barney Masuzumi, whose writing and leadership empowered Indigenous people across the Northwest Territories and beyond, died Saturday in Yellowknife. He was 72 years old.
A contributor to the 1975 Dene Declaration and original Indian Brotherhood member, a precursor to the Dene Nation, Masuzumi's guidance and teachings were highly respected and sought after.
"He was so much to so many people," said his wife of 30 years, Georgina Jacobson-Masuzumi.
Masuzumi was born Oct. 2, 1948 in Big Rock, between Fort Good Hope and Arctic Red River, she said.
An accomplished athlete, Masuzumi was chosen as one of 10 members to represent the Northwest Territories in the 1967 Centennial Voyageurs Canoe Pageant, a cross-county canoe race that spanned more than 5,000 kilometres over 104 days.
He served in the Canadian Rangers and was a senior administrative officer in Fort Good Hope, until the territory's then-premier Stephen Kakfwi asked him to help put the Dene language into the everyday workings of the territorial government.
He also toured the world advocating for a section in the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity, regarding the preservation of Indigenous traditional knowledge, innovations and practices.
Masuzumi attended Grandin College residential school in Fort Smith, N.W.T., as a youth and would later earn a teacher's diploma.
It was at the school where he met his wife.
"I come running around the corner of the girl's residence and I stopped dead in my tracks because these three guys were sitting on some lumber on the side of the building," she said.
One of those boys was Barney.
"When he took a look at me, I guess he said, 'that's my future.' And that was my nickname that they had given me in school — future."
They were together for three years.
"After that … we disappeared from each other for about 25 years," she said.
It wasn't until a chance encounter at the Gold Range bar in Yellowknife they would meet again.
"And he saw me. And then he looked at me strangely, like he knew me," she said.
"While he was walking over, the lights went on and he saw the colour of my eyes. And he just screamed, 'It's you!'"
"Three days later we were engaged to be married."
'One adventure after another'
JC Catholique was a close friend of Masuzumi. He described him as an outgoing social butterfly who was good with people "and a real nice person."
He remembers one time, years ago, getting lost out in the bush with him, walking in circles.
"We ended up being out there for the whole night," he said.
Masuzumi was adamant he didn't want anyone to know they had gotten lost.
"It was never a dull moment. It's always like one adventure after another," Catholique said.
"It was really an honour to walk with him."
Masuzumi is survived by his wife and four children, Ramal Seepish, Ira Timothy, Oneida Carr, and Seth Masuzumi.