This story was co-published with Native News Online.
When Neil Patterson Jr. was about 7 or 8 years old, he saw a painting called “Gathering Chestnuts,” by Tonawanda Seneca artist Ernest Smith. Patterson didn’t realize that the painting showed a grove of American chestnuts, a tree that had been all but extinct since his great-grandparents’ time. Instead, what struck Patterson was the family in the foreground: As a man throws a wooden club to knock chestnuts from the branches above, a child shells the nuts and a woman gathers them in a basket. Even the dog seems engrossed in the process, watching with head cocked as the club sails through the air.
Patterson grew up on the Tuscarora Nation Reservation just south of Lake Ontario near Niagara Falls. The painting reminded him of his elders teaching him to harvest black walnuts and hickories.
“I think, for me, it wasn’t about the tree, it was about a way of life,” said Patterson, who today is in his 40s, with silver-flecked dark hair and kids of his own. ... Read more