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A smiling Passamaquoddy Native American woman standing in front of a craft fair booth

November 03, 2022

Crafts From The Bay

Making and selling beaded jewelry helped Belinda connect with her Passamaquoddy heritage, supplement her income as a stay-at-home mother and step outside her comfort zone.

Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Belinda Miliano. I’m a single mother with an incredible support system, sole proprietor, and employed in the social services field. My two children are 5- and 6-year-old boys who are an absolute blessing, keep me going, and inspire me. We reside in Sipayik on the Passamaquoddy Reservation in Down East Maine. Before becoming a mother, I was a working professional in the mental health field and decided to dedicate my time to being a stay-at-home mother after my first child was born. It was important for me to provide a steady presence to my children, nurse them both, witness their first steps, first words, and provide the environment every child deserves in order to thrive.

I grew up in a small town outside of my tribal community and felt a sense of disconnectedness as a child. Before living outside of the tribal community, I remember talking to my grandfather in the Passamaquoddy Language, learning the language at the day care center, taking walks with my mother along the Passamaquoddy Bay, and picking sea glass among other beach treasures are fond memories for me. Once I moved, I lost a lot of that connectedness to my tribe, along with speaking the Passamaquoddy language. I stopped speaking the language after my kindergarten teacher yelled at me one day saying, “speak English!” It wasn’t until I turned 14 that I returned to the tribal community after being in foster care.

What inspired you to start making your creations and turn it into a business?

As a young girl I loved dream catchers. I smiled every time I saw one because it reminded me of my mother. I wanted one of my own, but didn’t have the money to get one, and had no one to teach me how to make one. My passion for making dream catchers was born after purchasing a kit with money I had saved, then teaching myself how to make them. I believe I was 11 and can remember what the first one looked like, and from there I began to experiment making them with different colors, sizes, charms, leather, etc. It was a more contemporary approach, and my creations set no limits, didn’t fall under any outside expectations, and was an incredible escape. I could get lost in the art for hours. It was very therapeutic.

The Crafts From The Bay name came from my connection to the Passamaquoddy Bay. I have fond memories of this beach as a child, and I cannot think of any better place in the world than this beach to live next to. I lived away from this area while pursuing my college degree, and when I would return to visit, I would always go to this beach. Everything about this location is breathtaking, healing, and relaxing. My inspiration to start Crafts From The Bay was born after someone told me I could turn my hobby into a business. The sound of being labeled a “business” was odd to me because I never thought of myself as an actual entrepreneur, or businesswoman, I knew nothing about owning a business. I sold creations at craft fairs to supplement income being a stay-at-home mother.

[It’s] taken me out of my comfort zone, given me the ability to travel to places I have never been before, and the ability to network and meet some pretty incredible people.

I had the passion to bead, created a Facebook group, then watched the followers and customer base grow. It’s all been so encouraging and inspiring to keep growing, learning, and expand. Being a sole proprietor has certainly taken me out of my comfort zone, given me the ability to travel to places I have never been before, and the ability to network and meet some pretty incredible people. In all honesty, I wish these gifts were fostered more when I was younger. I remember always wanting to stay in art class and craft, create things and get lost in projects. In high school, I begged the school counselor to allow me to take art class for an extra year. I loved art class. It wasn’t until my late 20s that I explored beading.

Inspiration from my work comes from many different sources. I love the colors of the sunset, the ocean, pastels in the springtime, starlit nights and so much more. These are the color schemes I will use in my work. I love the simple beauty of sea glass that has been tumbled over the years in the tides. Working with sea glass and creating jewelry from them was born after being creative during the pandemic shut down and doing a lot of beach walks with the children. Doing this work allows me to be flexible, think outside of the box, and have no limits, just like my process in creating.

To simply sit down and bead takes thought and intention for me. Once I get started, and the creativity begins to flow, I could get lost in it for hours. Beading allows me time to process, reflect, heal, and re-align. Creativity flows when the energy to do so is given to me. I’ve had times where it’s difficult to thread the beading needle, or the thread gets tangled into a knot. If these continue to occur, I’ll set the project down and return later.

What resources/people/information have been most helpful in your entrepreneurial journey? 

I’ve had several mentors and supports along the way, which has allowed my craft process and creations to evolve. I remember telling myself I could never make beaded dream catchers because the patience, time and dedication to making them was something I didn’t have. My hesitation was due to not knowing “how.” My cousin sat down with me one day and taught me how to make small hoop beaded earrings. Once I figured out how to make beaded earrings, it sparked an intense desire in me to create more, and then I experimented with making beaded dream catchers. An elder in my community mentored me with learning how to bead other earrings, and my sister taught me how to bead ornaments. It’s been a process of learning, trial, error, mistakes, and trying again. Beading requires a dedicated presence, clear mind, and allows me to put together in physical form, something that was born from the heart.

Over the summer of 2022, I had the incredible opportunity being mentored by Four Directions Development Corp under the Small Business & PTAC Program. Being connected to a mentor has expanded my understanding on establishing/running a small business and has been an ongoing process. My mentor is an extremely valuable resource and connected me to other resources available such as New Ventures Maine which helped me build a website. It’s all a learning process. I joke about, “I create the items, and am not too good around the technological aspects of running a business. But I’m getting there.”

What are the biggest challenges in the process?

Some of the challenges in the process include “time” I will bead in the early hours of the morning before my children wake up for school. I will dedicate an hour at least 2-3x a week if needed to work on inventory – I’ll web rings while I’m at a show, or watching tv with the children. I’ve learned the art of “letting go” of the expectations I have for the day and “go with the flow” around my children’s schedule.

Being a sole proprietor is a leap of faith. It’s going into the areas of the unknown, and I’ve found that this is where growth and learning comes from. Nothing changes when you are stagnant, right? No growth happens sitting still.

This was a difficult concept for me at first, because staying in a place that I’m familiar with had me feeling safe. I was afraid of failure. But I shifted my thinking around the thoughts of “failure.” It’s not exactly failing, it’s learning about what works, what doesn’t, trying something new, reconfiguring another approach. You cannot fail if you try 😊. You learn your strengths, weaknesses, and grow through what you go through. I feel as though my work represents growth, healing, transformation, beauty, and is a gift for many to enjoy. Beading is a gift. It’s important to carry this gift from our ancestors and pass it on to our younger generation in order to keep the art and traditions alive. I feel as though this is my responsibility as a mother to foster this learning in my children too.

What does it mean to you to be Passamaquoddy? 

It is such an incredible honor to be an indigenous Passamaquoddy Native American. We represent resilience, survival, strength, connectedness, family, community, and so much more. The tribal communities look out for each other, support each other. What happens to one happens to all.

Do you have any tips for other women who want to start a business?

Tips for other women: Don’t let anyone hinder your gift(s) or tell you that you are incapable of starting your own business. Follow your entrepreneurial dream, foster your passion to learn, get connected to other sole proprietors, and network with individuals that support your goals, such as a mentor. Stepping out of your comfort zone can be scary, it’s a leap of faith. But that is where you grow. Plant those seeds of self-love, seeds of work, seeds of learning, and follow through on nurturing your gifts. What you believe is what you grow, what you grow is what you harvest. Don’t give up on those goals, those dreams are there for a reason. It’s never too late to start.

Learn More About Crafts From the Bay

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