“You have to look deeper, way below the anger, the hurt, the hate, the jealousy, the self-pity, way down deeper where the dreams lie, son. Find your dream. It’s the pursuit of the dream that heals you.”― Billy Mills, Oglala Lakota Sioux
Sarah Ortegon, Eastern Shoshone, Northern Arapaho & Basque – Office Manager, Artist, Actress and Dancer — I was born September 8th at 9:07 AM, in Denver, CO. I was the 10th in a family of 12 children. During the summers we would go home to the Wind River Reservation and stay with my aunt and uncle. Our tradition was to run to the Sacajawea grave site, to see who could run the fastest. We would swim in the ditch, but our favorite place to swim was the Wind River.
At the age of 17, I was kicked out of my house and disowned for having a boyfriend. I had already started college at the Metropolitan State University of Denver. Soon after, I started working at 7-11 to support myself. Some days I would run to the University from where I lived because we did not have a car. Other times, I took the bus — but I knew I had to reach my goal to graduate from college. Nothing would stop me. It took me a long time to graduate from MSU, but I finally accomplished it in 2013, with a Bachelor in Fine Arts (concentration in Drawing). Then, I came up with a bucket list. That bucket list included a beauty pageant…
In 2013, I tried out for the Miss Native American, USA pageant. I had no idea how to wear makeup, heels, or even speak in front of a large audience. One week before the pageant I was practicing walking in heels and I went to the mall to learn how to apply make-up. The week before, I made a jingle dress to dance and perform in. In August of 2013, I was awarded the title of Miss Native American, USA. I had never expected the title; I was not prepared with a thank you speech.
Soon after, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. I went back home to ask for his acceptance. I once again was in my Dad’s good graces. He passed away April 4, 2014, and I was able to hold his hand one last time.
I have always had the drive to do more with my life, to experience as much as possible. I do not know where this drive comes from, maybe it is a place of loneliness, and maybe it comes from being sheltered as a young person. I want to really live, and I want to experience as much as possible.
Now I work as an Office Manager for the law firm, Smith & Shellenberger, LLC, in Northglenn, CO. They practice Native American Law and also family law. However, my major passions include: Art, Acting, Dancing and being in the outdoors. I have been blessed with opportunities including solo art shows in Colorado and Wyoming.
I have also danced at Red Rocks, opening for the band “Elephant Revival.” I was able to travel to Australia, Guatemala, Moldova and Germany to showcase the jingle dance and also the fancy dance.
As a little girl, the kids in the family were meant to be seen but not heard. So I expressed myself through art, even as a child. My art was the quiet expression of a world within myself that needed the freedom to be expressed. I struggled with anxiety and depression after I was disowned, and the feeling still follows me at times. This is where acting comes in. I am able to put all of the repressed emotions into emoting. I can express all of the hurt, all of the happiness and all of the passion that was dampened as a young girl. I was cast in a musical, Sitting Bull’s Last Waltz, in LA, as Sitting Bull’s wife, “Seen By The Nation.” I was also cast as an extra in PBS’s television series, Jamestown, which was filmed in Budapest, Hungary. I also performed some stunts on set. These are the types of activities that make me come alive.
In the summer of 2015, I was able to go on an expedition with National Outdoor Leadership School. We spent a month in Alaska, two weeks sea kayaking and two weeks bushwhacking. It was hard, but I loved every minute of it! I hope to awaken the passion for our Mother Earth in the younger generation. Recently, I received my Wilderness First Responders certificate and would like to eventually lead young adults through the Wind River Mountains, to help them connect with our land — the way it was meant to be.
Through all these adventures I’ve had, I want the youth to know that I never depended on my parents to fund me. I was constantly working hard, writing scholarship requests and doing what I needed to do to be funded. Even without having the support of parents or family, you can still do the things you dream of doing. Just believe and know there is always a way.