“When I’m making a piece, I put on my good attitude and spirits. The Grandmas [and] Grandpas used to say ‘If you’re making something, you can’t make it with anger.'”
– Regana Begay
Regana Begay started making jewelry as a means for survival. In the midst of a major life transition, Begay packed her bags and left Arizona for Portland with three young children in 2006. When she arrived, she found herself unable to sustain an ordinary work schedule because of her demands at home, so she turned to a pastime of silversmithing. “I still had my jewelry,” she recalls. “I had brought all of my equipment and I started building up.”
Having learned the skill from a family of fourth-generation silversmiths, the pieces Begay sold during her beginnings were at wholesale. Over time, Begay realized she could earn more money selling products directly to customers.
And as her children got older, they started chipping in with utilities which gave Begay more time to rest and create.
While the initial move to Portland was unexpected, Begay says the integration felt seam-less. “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 to support her community. These quarterly inventory trips ensure quality (and fair prices to sellers in an oft-saturated market). She even 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. 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.
This story was originally published in 2017 in the Mercatus MiniMag Volume 1. Regana Begay passed away in 2023.
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