Shoshone-Paiute Youth learn about traditional Pinenut Gathering
By: Christina Pete, Reporter Sho-Pai News
University of Nevada-Reno Cooperative Extension and Barrick Partner to take Youth Pinenut Picking in Austin, Nevada
With our traditions on the verge of being lost, the University of Nevada Reno (UNR) Cooperative Extension Program along with the support from Barrick and Newe Water gathered a group of youth and chaperones for a pine nut picking trip to Austin, Nevada. There was a total of 12 youth and 5 chaperones who attended this picking trip. The group left on Saturday, September 15th for Austin, Nevada.
The pinion nut or pine nut as most call it, is the staple food to the Great Basin people. The Washoe, Shoshone, Paiute and Hopi harvested the pine nut long before the white man entered the area.
Pinenut or “Tepa” in the Shoshone Language, picking was the life link food as tribes would gather for celebrations, teachings, and stories during the yearly harvest. The pinion is a major, storable, multi-faceted food packed with tons of vitamins and minerals essential for the human body.
Upon arrival to their destination, Gerald Smith and Tom Mason had the tarps laid out under the pine trees along with the buckets they used to gather the pine cones in. Laurie Caskey, local elder, explained prayers and offerings are needed so the trees can keep producing pine nuts. Pine nut blessing began during the spring time. Prayers and pine nut blessing songs would be sung as they prayed for an abundant harvest come fall. Once the fall season approached, the elderly, men, women and children would make their way to the mountains. Before anything was picked or taken from the land, there is always a prayer and offerings such as water or tobacco laid down.
A prayer was offered by Laurie Caskey prior to picking. The pickers gathered around the tree, while Tom and Gerald knocked down the cones. While picking, the children were told stories and were given a chance to ask questions about pine nut gathering.
As part of picking and cleaning, the Shoshone and Paiute people used winnowing baskets handmade from willows. Once the pinecones were placed in the sun for a while or on hot coals, this process allows the pinecone to open up and the actual pinenut is easier to remove. The pinenuts are placed in the winnowing basket where hot coals are added and a constant motion of swirling. Once roasted, the pinenuts are placed on a grinding stone where the shells are lightly cracked with a mano (small stone) then, placed back in the basket where the winnowing process begins. The wind carries the broken shells away until the shells are gone and just the nuts are in the basket.
Our Shoshone and Paiute people picked pine nuts freely before the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) came and put restrictions on millions of acres of pinion forests. Established in 1934, the Taylor Grazing Act allowed the Bureau of Land Management to have excessive control over the Nevada public land, which permits and fees were put in place. Indigenous plants like sage, juniper, and pinion were ripped from the land and replaced with bitterbrush, alfalfa, and other grasses or forbs that are needed for livestock or wildlife.
“Kids really need to be taught more and from what I seen, they’re always on their cell phones. Other than that, I’m hoping the kids learned something,” Laurie Caskey said.
This was the second pine nut picking trip that was provide to the community. A group also went chokecherry picking in Ruby Valley.
Mariah Gonzales, Youth Outreach Specialist for the UNR Cooperative Extension Program, stated, “Before a trip I give them a short test on what they know about a certain cultural activity we’re doing. Then after, I’ll give them another test to see what they have learned. Part of the reason to this is to see if this program is working.“
Mariah included, she is planning on having elders come in and teach the children how to make chokecherry patties, jam, or pudding from their pickings. She also is hoping to teach the children how to cook their pine nuts underground like they used to.
All travel expenses were covered by Barrick Gold of North America. Transportation and snacks were provided by Newe Water, LLC.