San Benito Lifestyle

SJB library receives Native American book collection

Laynee Reyna donates over 300 books and 70 field recordings for public use.

The Carl M. Luck Memorial Library in San Juan Bautista recently acquired a collection of over 300 books and pamphlets, as well as over 70 albums of field recordings all on the subject of Native Americans as part of a generous donation from Indian Market founder and author Laynee Reyna.

“Laynee called me a month ago and asked me if I was interested in the collection,” said Rochelle Eagan, lead library technician. “I just about fell over with excitement and said ‘yes, please, as soon as we can get it over here.’”

Reyna is well known in San Juan Bautista as the founder of the Indian Market, an event held by her “One Earth One People Peace Vision” nonprofit which ran for 35 years before ending in 2019. Her donation to the local library is the result of years of her searching bookstore shelves with her ex-husband Sonne Reyna. 

“In my younger years, I started collecting Indian crafts books,” Reyna said. “But Sonne and I started really collecting after we met and married in 1984. Whenever we went to a bookstore we would ask to see their books on or by Native Americans. It was important to us to get the perspectives of the tribal people.”

Originally, Reyna lent the books out herself from her home. About five years ago, with the assistance of librarian Leanne Oliveira, she formalized the lending process and put the catalog online for anyone interested in borrowing a title.  

Now, the titles will be maintained in the shelf order Reyna established in her own lending library. The original catalog for the collection, as established by Oliveira, is also available for reference.

The 300-plus books will be in a non-circulating collection, available for use only at the library.

Eagan has set aside shelves dedicated to the collection near other books on local and California history, as well as a complete set of George Bancroft’s landmark 1878 publication “The History of the United States of America, from the Discovery of the American Continent.”

Eagan described Reyna’s donation as a “diverse and unique” curated collection.

“They are not just books you would find at Barnes and Noble or something you would get from Time-Life,” Eagan said. “I have never been to a library with as many titles along this line.  Usually, they just have a few token books and we have so many more books here that you just never see.”

Asked to identify a book that was particularly meaningful to her, Reyna named “Lakota Woman,” a bestseller and winner of the 1991 American Book Award. It’s the memoir of Mary Brave Bird, who was raised on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota and remained a Native American activist until her death in 2013. 

“She would come and stay in the cabin behind our house,” Reyna said. “She would call us and say ‘Elaine, I need to come out” and I would take her and her three kids in for a month at a time with us. We were adopted by her family and we sun danced and went to ceremony together for six years.”

Included in the collection are two books by Reyna herself, “Wolf Dreamer of the Longest Night Moon” and “Full Moon over Grizzly Bear Island.”

In his review of “Full Moon,” Jim Ostdick, local author of 2017’s “Palomino Nation: My 2016 Crazyass Walk Across America,” refers to the book as a “thrilling, imaginative, heart-stirring parable of compassionate, measured justice leading to humble, life-affirming redemption.”

Of special interest are the vinyl recordings that are part of the donation. They comprise 23 of the 26 albums released by the Indian Records label, and are drawn from field recordings Oscar Humphreys made in the 1960s and 1970s. Several of the albums in the collection are out of print.

Humphreys traveled to reservations to record Native singers and musicians on location at powwows. The library has a record player and headphones available for anyone interested in listening, and Eagan has been in discussion with the copyright holders to possibly digitalize the titles.

The Reyna family also donated several artworks that will be displayed near the collection. There are two giclee prints, “Patchwork Pony” by Sonne and “Spirit Walker” by Lanyee. There is also a piece called “Aztec Offering” given to the Reynas by the Xipe Totec Aztec Dance Group. The group, under the direction of Gerardo Salinas, was a mainstay of the Indian Market, performing Aztec-based dances to traditional drumming while wearing “trajes,” elaborate feathered outfits and headdresses.

While the library is still closed to patrons until Stage Four of the state’s reopening plan, there are plans to hold a dedication ceremony to honor Reyna and the collection when the library reopens. Eagan plans on playing songs and chants from the records at the event.

“I would hope people would come in and find out about California Indians in particular,” Reyna said. “This world moves so fast, I would like people to slow down and take the time to learn the stories and the history of Native peoples.”



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Robert Eliason

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