It has been more than 60 years since Wilma Blossom’s first pine nut harvest, but her voice crackles with pleasure as she reminisces about collecting pine nuts with family and friends in Nevada’s Reese River Valley in the late 1940s.
“Oh, those memories are so neat,” says Blossom, a Western Shoshone elder. “Back in them days, we used to go in our old trucks. You’d pack your whole family, drive all day to Reese River, meet up with other families, make a big pine nut camp and pick throughout the day.
“The men would whip the pinyon trees back and forth with long metal poles and the pine nuts sounded like rain coming off the trees.”
Blossom, 69, was born and raised on the Duck Valley Reservation in northeast Nevada. Food wasn’t always plentiful, and pine nuts helped sustain families through the long winter months. “They’d keep people from starving,” she says.
The pine nut remains an important part of Shoshone culture, but fewer people participate in the harvest these days. Many elders would like nothing more than to take part, but often lack the means to do so. “A lot of people don’t have cars and they can’t do the hard work involved in harvesting pine nuts anymore,” Blossom says.
Enter Brian Mason. Also a Shoshone from Duck Valley, Mason believes it is important to sustain long-standing Shoshone traditions like the pine nut harvest. “It’s something that bonded the community together,” he says. “It would be a shame to lose that.”
A man of action who served 21 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Mason began working as an Environmental Engineer at Barrick’s Cortez Mine in 2006. That summer, as the rabbit brush in the desert turned yellow, signaling the approaching harvest season, Mason had an idea. He would organize a pine nut harvest for Shoshone elders, scouting out the best locations of pinyon trees and escorting anyone interested in participating. The effort would require Barrick’s sponsorship to cover transportation, lodging and meal costs, and that support was readily forthcoming. “Barrick was committed to this idea from the start,” Mason says.
Indeed, many Barrick employees, including senior executives, have helped Mason with the program since its inaugural year in 2006. “It was very enjoyable,” says Andrew Cole, General Manager of Barrick’s Goldstrike mine in Nevada, who helped Mason with the 2010 harvest. “It was my first pine nut harvest, and helping the Shoshone elders with one of their traditional celebrations, well, it was pretty special to be a part of that.”
Because pinyon trees bear pine nuts only once every three or four years, Mason spends several weekends every September scouring the back country around Cortez for clusters of harvest-ready trees. When he finds them, he informs the Shoshone communities and begins making transportation and accommodation arrangements. He escorts about 50 elders on the harvest each year over two weekends in October. Sometimes demand is so high, he adds a third weekend. “They start calling me in July to find out when we’re doing it,” he says.
While it’s primarily elders who attend, Mason welcomes people of all ages. “We’ve had teenagers come out, which is what I really want,” he says. “I don’t discourage anybody.”
One year, Blossom’s 22-year-old grandson attended, which is a memory that she cherishes. “It meant the world to me,” she says. “Our younger generation don’t seem to want to go out anymore. It’s hard work to get the pine nuts, but it’s something that Shoshones treasure.”
In addition to coordinating the pine nut harvest, Mason helps organize annual, Barrick-funded Shoshone language workshops in Salt Lake City for high-school age Shoshone students. As an enhancement to regulatory permitting for Barrick’s Cortez Hills Mine, he also organized a wood harvest in 2008 that provided essential firewood to hundreds of elders and members of several Shoshone communities. In 2011, Mason was recognized with a Corporate Social Responsibility award from Barrick for his work with the Shoshone community.
After serving as an Environmental Superintendent at the Ruby Hill Mine from 2009 through 2011, Mason assumed the role of Superintendent of Native American Affairs. In his new position, he helps identify and assist Native American candidates seeking employment with Barrick. “I can’t think of a better role model for anyone looking to start a career with Barrick,” says Director of Communications for North America, Lou Schack, who nominated Mason for the CSR award. “Brian’s knowledge of his people’s history and traditions are of great value to me personally and to Barrick, as we work with the Shoshone people of Nevada to share the benefits of our business and help preserve the Shoshone culture.”
Blossom says Mason’s efforts are appreciated. “Brian’s work means a lot to the people.”
For his part, Mason says the hard work that he puts in on behalf of his community is worth it. “Just to listen to the elders talk amongst themselves during the pine nut harvest and see how happy they are is pretty good.”