Regana Begay started making jewelry to survive. In the midst of a major life transition in 2006, Begay packed her bags and left Arizona for Portland with three young children. When she arrived, she found herself unable to sustain an ordinary work schedule because of the demands at home, so she turned to her past skills in silversmithing. “I still had my jewelry,” she recalls. “I had brought all of my equipment, and I started building up."
Begay learned her skills from her family of fourth-generation silversmiths and sold her initial pieces at wholesale. Over time, she realized she could earn more money selling products directly to customers. As her children got older, they started chipping in on home expenses which gave Begay more time to rest and create.
While the initial move to Portland was sudden, Begay says the integration felt seamless. "We were very welcomed… Everybody told me exactly where to go for whatever I needed—even the powwows, social gatherings, and clubs. There's such a strong Native community here." A decade later, her business and resiliency have flourished.
Begay travels to the Diné (Navajo) reservation she grew up on to purchase materials from relatives and old neighbors and support her community. These quarterly inventory trips ensure quality (and fair prices to sellers in an oft-saturated market). She keeps her community and traditions in mind with each item she crafts.
“When I'm making a piece, I put on my good attitude and spirits,” she says. “The grandmas [and] grandpas used to say if you're making something, you can't make it with anger. You're putting that bad juju—that bad energy—into something you're making for somebody…Nobody wants that.” To further her pursuit of empowerment, Begay says she uses turquoise—a stone that aptly represents healing and positivity.
Written by: Emilly Prado
Photos by: Joshua James Huff
Published: November 2017