An Elder’s Life Well-Lived 
~ Karen Spencer-Barnes 

It was a beautiful day for the Hoop Dance Competition 

held at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.  As I

walked in the gate, there she was, sitting in a wheel chair, 

blue headscarf, beautiful turquoise jewelry around her

neck, a gentle smile and a sense of “knowing!”  I learned 

Glenna Begay weaved the rugs that were for sale as a

fundraiser for a passion she has regarding human rights

violations on the Black Mesa of the Navajo Reservation.   Her rugs are exquisite!  

It was suggested I interview her; she agreed but does not speak English.  Her daughter, Salina Begay, kindly served as our translator.  

I learned Glenna is 86 years old and was born on the Black Mesa on the land on which she has always lived near the Peabody Western Coal Company strip mine.  She is a sheep herder, a weaver, a potter, a jewelry-maker, a community activist! 

She tells me when she was 13 her aunt, Alice Begay, started her on a loom and taught her how to weave.  She has weaved all her life, but also makes jewelry and pottery.  Her bad eyesight has forced her to give up jewelry making.  She now sells weaving orders as large as 10' x 12'.  I asked her if she created her own designs. She said when she was young she just used her own imagination to create designs, but more recently she looks in a weaving book and then goes home and uses her own imagination to revisit that design and add her own twists.  In 1999 she demonstrated weaving at the Boston International Festival as a guest of migration and cultural survival.  You can learn more at:
MBM-358. This room-size weaving took master weaver and elder Glenna Begay almost a year to weave, of astonishing beauty, incorporating elements of Two Grey Hills ...

We might find that interesting, but another fascinating thing about her fabulous creations is she not only raises her sheep, Glenna sheers her sheep and sends the wool off to be cleaned.  Upon return she uses herb-based dyes to color the wool, develops the yarn and begins weaving.  It is an art, and the world needs to know there are still women like Glenna Begay whose weaving skill has incredible dignity, value and worth! 

As a Navajo activist, this amazing lady has been a strong advocate for her people at the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, the Commission on the Status of Women in New York and at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland.  You can find more information about her activism at: 

Meet the Grandmothers | Forgotten People
Glenna was born and lives in Black Mesa near Peabody Western Coal Company strip mine. She is a Director of Forgotten People, a grassroots organization on the Navajo ...

A chance meeting at the Hoop Dance competition – WOW!  I am blessed and privileged to say I met Glenna Begay!  I invite you to take some time soon to get to know someone from another culture.  It might blow your mind and help you appreciate and cherish what others have to offer the world!   


Photos Courtesy Karen Spencer-Barnes & Glenna Begay