On a winter day in 2011, three-year-old Kailee Reynolds asked her father to read her a book, and the two set off for the library.
A member of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, Shawn Reynolds took his daughter to the Fife Library, which sits on tribal land, and they began looking for children’s books about Native Americans.
“There were books on Japanese culture, Korean culture, Spanish culture, but none on Native American culture,” Reynolds said.
He posed a four-word question to branch supervisor Tami Masenhimer:
“What happened to us?”
Reynolds, who’s now 26 and works in a Fife T-shirt printing shop, had another question.
“I asked her, ‘If I can get you more media, will you use it?’ I said I had some stuff at my house – books, DVDs, CDs,” he said. “Tami said if I could get her more media on Native Americans, she’d display it.”
That conversation changed Reynolds’ life – and the Fife Library, which is part of the Pierce County Library System. Today, Masenhimer has four shelves dedicated to Native American media.
“Today, we have a lovely collection of children’s books on Native Americans because Shawn found it and brought it in,” she said. “If everything we have now was checked in at the same time, those four shelves would be overflowing. It’s never all checked in.”
Reynolds didn’t just bring in what he had at home. He spoke with his tribal council and told them what he wanted to do – “spread our culture through the library system.
“I told them, ‘Let’s put our language out there.’”
Within a week, the tribe had donated 30 pieces.
“I told Tami, ‘this is only the start.’”
Reynolds contacted small publishing houses and recording studios with Native American titles, explaining what he wanted and asking if they would give media to the library.
He laid out his plan on social media – on Facebook, he is Eagle Touch the Clouds – and authors began contacting him.
“This isn’t a business, it’s not a charity. It’s just a personal project,” Reynolds explained. “We got a CD of songs from pow-wows. Kate Elliott of the Chinook tribe donated a language CD. I’ve bought books on my own. Canyon Records gifted CDs on tribal drumming, tribal flutes and music.”
The library cooperated.
“Shawn talks to me, I talk to those who build our collection,” Masenhimer said. “We had what was available from the publishers we buy from. Shawn found small publishers, sometimes books that were self-published. He became our connection to them.”
That Reynolds was the man to help build a library collection was a head-shaker.
“In my teens, I was a mess. I was addicted to drugs, to alcohol, I was in gangs,” he said. “In 2005, I was rotting from the inside and doctors said I wasn’t going to live long doing what I was doing. I was 17.
“I said a cultural prayer to the creator, asking for strength. I got all the hardships that build strength. I spent time locked up, time sick, time in bad places. I’ll have been sober eight years in August. I’ve gotten back into my culture, my blood.
“This project is my AA.”
Masenhimer loved Reynolds’ passion for the work, but that was only part of it.
“What I haven’t seen before was someone that passionate who followed through,” she said.
Reynolds and his wife, Lisa, are expecting another daughter in April. Kailee, who only wanted her dad to read to her on that winter day two years ago, has a name in mind.
“Kailee wants to call her ‘Little Thunder’ because she can hear her growling in her mother’s stomach,” Reynolds said.
The search for Native American media – and libraries that will display it – continues. Patrons throughout the Pierce County system can access the material in Fife, and Reynolds hopes to meet with King County Library officials soon.
“Ultimately, the goal is to have libraries doing this in all 50 states,” he said.
Too ambitious? Masenhimer doesn’t think so.
“I’d love to see it, and he’s determined,” she said. “‘No’ doesn’t stop him.”
Larry LaRue: (253) 597-8638