Pageant winner Sarah Ortegon said she never prepared an acceptance speech because she didn't anticipate being crowned Miss Native American USA 2013.

But when her name was called Aug. 3, she quickly collected her thoughts and accepted a colorful sash and beaded crown in front of dozens of spectators at the Tempe Center for Arts in Tempe, Ariz.

"I worked really hard to get into the pageant," Ortegon said afterward. "(But) I didn't think I would win."

Ortegon is a member of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes. She was born in and lives in Denver and is a recent graduate of the Metropolitan State University of Denver where she received a Bachelor in Fine Arts degree.

Ortegon competed against nine other contestants from across the United States.

"It's really to empower Native American women and youth and promote growth within yourself," Ortegon said. "I'm looking forward to representing the title in the best way that I can and traveling and helping others."

First pageant

This was the first time Ortegon competed in a pageant, and she said she is eager to prepare for speeches and performances she can give while visiting American Indian communities.

"I want to try to be a positive influence," she said.

The pageant was like any other with an added focus on American Indian tradition and emphasis on education status and ambitions. Participants had to be between the ages of 18 and 27 and were judged in four categories: traditional wear, evening wear, an interview and a talent.

In the interviews, the contestants were asked one surprise question. Ortegon was asked what advice she would give to women wanting to compete.

"I tell them to follow their hearts and nothing is impossible," Ortegon said. "Have faith in yourself and just to keep going."

Ortegon said she enjoys beading and sewing and made some of her own clothing and a beaded belt for use in the pageant. She was awarded donated gifts and a Pendleton blanket.

"I am truly happy and confident she will touch and inspire many, and I look forward to working with her," said Tashina Atine, director and owner of the organization.

Visits to reservation

Although Ortegon never lived on the Wind River Indian Reservation, her frequent summer trips there to visit her relatives George and Shirley Enos -- related to her mother Sharon "Joy" Enos -- began when she was 3 years old.

She said she enjoyed attending powwows on the reservation and learned about jingle dress dancing, a tradition she practices and continues to enjoy now as an adult. She also performed a jingle dress dance in the pageant.

At home is her father, Angel Ortegon, and six brothers and six sisters who she said have always showered her with support.

Future plans

Ortegon also presented her art during the pageant. She said she will be showcasing more of her work in an art show in November at the Center for Visual Arts in downtown Denver along with other American Indian artists.

She also enjoys running, traveling and participating in outdoors activities like hiking, camping and fishing. She has taken an interest in ethnic studies and said she would like to further her education in that field.

While at MSU, Ortegon was able to study abroad and travel to Rome and Florence in Italy.

The pageant is inteded to encourage American Indian women to achieve their personal goals, build character, improve their self-esteem and leadership skills, Atine said. Organizers also hope to help promote and recognizing issues like domestic violence, teenage pregnancy, and suicide and youth violence in American Indian communities.

Atine said more than 120 women have requested applications for the pageant, but only 16 have successfully completed the registration process. Last year, Shaylin Shabi, a resident of Kayenta, Ariz., and member of the Navajo Tribe, was crowned in the pageant.

"I was extremely happy to see that our contestants this year were extremely dedicated to their platform," Atine said. "It was heartwarming and inspiring to see each of them interested in making a difference."

Atine said the organization hopes to expand its presence, grow with donations and sponsors and offer a scholarship as a prize.

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