‘You don’t look like an architect’

Diné woman hopes 40 under 40 award will change people’s perceptions


SUBMITTED Tamarah Begay

Tamarah Begay

The first female Navajo architect has been named to the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development’s prestigious 40 under 40 list.

Tamarah Begay, 36, principal at Indigenous Design Studio and Architecture LLC in Albuquerque, claimed her award Wednesday along with 39 other emerging business leaders at NCAIED’s 41st Annual INPRO gala in Santa Fe.

The award recognizes 40 young American Indian leaders from across Indian Country who have demonstrated leadership, initiative and dedication and made significant contributions in business and/or their community.

Begay said she’s happy about the award because, with any luck, it will help change the public’s idea of what an architect looks like.

“I’ll be out on a job site and someone will say, ‘Where’s the architect?’” Begay said in a phone interview from her Albuquerque studio. “I’ll say, ‘I’m the architect.’ They say, ‘Really? You don’t look like an architect.’ They just don’t expect an architect to be a young woman.”

But people are starting to take her seriously. In a 2012 interview, Begay told the Navajo Times she started her own firm because she was tired of her male colleagues always asking her to take notes or make coffee at meetings, and she felt she wasn’t advancing as fast as her male peers.

It wasn’t as though she hadn’t been warned; her father back in Iyanbito, New Mexico had tried to steer her toward sociology instead of architecture in college because he knew she would be discriminated against in a male-dominated field.

But Begay was prepared to fight back.

“I come from a family of strong women,” she told the Times. “They always told me and continue to tell me today, ‘Don’t let those men run over you.’”

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Categories: Business

About Author

Cindy Yurth

Cindy Yurth is the Tséyi' Bureau reporter, covering the Central Agency of the Navajo Nation. Her other beats include agriculture and Arizona state politics. She holds a bachelor’s degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University with a cognate in geology. She has been in the news business since 1980 and with the Navajo Times since 2005, and is the author of “Exploring the Navajo Nation Chapter by Chapter.” She can be reached at editor@navajotimes.com.