Two Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community member students currently attending Scottsdale Community College (SCC) have discovered a way to balance becoming young adults while expressing their creative voices simultaneously. Both were first-place winners in the Native American Voices category in this year’s SCC Vortex Creative Writing & Art Competition.
Maleena Deer (Onk Akimel O’odham/Piipaash) won the art award for her acrylic watercolor painting, “Wild Desert Child.” Surprisingly, the 19-year-old artist is pursuing a degree in business and has yet to take any art classes.
“I’ve been painting for about three years now,” explained Deer, “but I have been creating art for as long as I could hold a pencil. I get my inspiration from my environment; most of my art has a lot of nature elements to it.”
Looking to explore different mediums, Deer said that she will always paint and doesn’t think she could stop if she wanted to. “This award means I should be making art,” she said, laughing, “but sometimes I feel like I don’t even know why I’m making art or putting so much time and energy into it. But I’m sure all artists go through that.”
“I felt very grateful being awarded. I just couldn’t believe I was standing in front of all those people because of my art,” she said, smiling, when asked what the awards ceremony meant to her.
The other award recipient was soft-spoken writer Joe French, who won for his poem “Grandma’s Hands.” Inspired by the upbringing of his grandmother, French wrote the poem for one of his assignments.
“I would say that I have only been writing seriously since this semester. I took this creative writing class because I wanted to be more descriptive when writing,” explained French. “When I was attending AAI (Arizona Automotive Institute), I bought a guitar. I strummed songs together, and I knew that I didn’t want be in mechanics anymore. Something inside came alive.”
French, who is Piipaash and O’odham, will be finishing his associate of arts at SCC and then transfer to Arizona State University, where he will continue to pursue his bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies. Other goals include writing his memoirs and performing a recital for his Community at an event.
“I am grateful for the support of SRPMIC, which has helped make my artistic journey possible. Thank you,” added French.
This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Vortex Awards and the first year that there was a category for Native students to be recognized specifically, “Native Voices and Visions.” Sandra Desjardins, program director for Vortex, and Ana Cuddington with the SCC American Indian Program, combined passions and developed the scholarships to help Native students gain more exposure in the arts.
“We are thrilled about this being our first year. Ana is great; after talking about the [award] recipients, we are looking forward to the possibilities it can bring in the future for the program, the school and the Community,” Desjardins said.
The Vortex Creative Writing & Art Competition Awards Reception was held at the Chaparral Suites and made possible through charitable donations. If you or someone you know is interested in donating, please call Buffie Diglio at (480) 423-6549.
If you’re a Native American student attending SCC and would like to submit artwork for consideration in the next Vortex competition, email Ana Cuddington at email@example.com or call the American Indian Program at (480) 423-6531.