SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Mary Kim Titla, San Carlos Apache candidate for U.S. Congress, met with 30 American Indian high school students participating in a national summer leadership institute held annually in Scottsdale.
Keynote speaker for the Nation Building for Native Youth Summer Training Institute, Titla challenged the youth to overcome the obstacles which may now seem very large in their lives and instead look for opportunities to seek goals for success.
''I grew up in Bylas, Ariz., on the San Carlos Reservation in extreme poverty,'' she stated, her eyes constantly spanning the large meeting room to connect individually with the young people, ''and my home lacked electricity ... we had no indoor plumbing.
''My father was 16 when I was born and we lived with my paternal grandparents,'' she continued.
''I can relate to the common people in deeply rural areas of Arizona because that is where I'm from,'' she told the audience of Native teenagers and their advisers. ''I've been there.''
Despite the economic hardships of life on San Carlos, Titla was encouraged by her young parents to participate in sports, academics and cheerleading, and eventually went to college. With two university degrees in journalism, Titla returned to Arizona where she struggled to gain employment as a field reporter in Tucson and Phoenix television broadcasting.
''Nothing came easy for me,'' she related to the students, ''because I was raised on a reservation - I had to overcome my Apache accent.
''My boss at the television station told me I needed a lot of work on my consonants,'' she added, providing more detail of common English words she was apparently slurring.
Titla spent 30 minutes in the audio booth on her English enunciations for one-minute scripts. She often practiced with multiple takes, sometimes running 25 or 30 takes, when most others at the news station did it in two.
Then the station manager ordered her to cut off her 3-foot-long hair.
''Do you want to be known as Mary Kim Titla, the Indian reporter, or Mary Kim Titla, the journalist?'' he asked her rhetorically.
Titla refused. In the 20 years that she worked in Arizona television news broadcasting, she passed up opportunities to become news anchor at KPNX in Phoenix.
Interviewing Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson and Scottie Pippen became a perk in her work in the broadcast industry; but one time she yelled at K.J. (All-NBA player Kevin Johnson) as he was passing by, running for a team bus. To her shock, K.J. strolled over to her waiting for her first question.
''I was star struck; I couldn't say anything, no words came out,'' she related to the youth, as they laughed at her predicament.
But more often, however, Titla spent much of her time traveling throughout Arizona communities speaking with people face-to-face. She gained special insight into local and statewide issues, covering stories about the good and the tragedies. She researched political candidates' positions on issues and learned to question them with incisiveness. She was also recently featured as one of 10 remarkable women in the book, ''Native Women of Courage,'' by Kelly Fournel.
Titla urged the assembled American Indian teens to pursue greater dreams, assuring them that they can start with an ordinary beginning and move on to things they never guessed they could do.
''I'm not the first Arizona Indian to run for Congress. There were four before me, but they couldn't secure the crossover vote.'' (The non-Indian voters in Arizona District 1 outnumber the Apache and Navajo.)
''I'm different,'' Titla stated. ''A lot of non-Native people saw me on television for 20 years ... I'm Mary Kim Titla, the well-rounded journalist, not Mary Kim Titla, the little reporter who's only going to represent American Indians.''
Titla has received significant support from 60 American Indian tribes, but could use contributions from the other 500.
''If every American Indian gave me one dollar, I'd be way ahead of my opponent in campaign fundraising,'' she concluded.
With soaring gas prices and her tires wearing out by driving door to door in a very large rural congressional district, Titla could use more support from Indian tribes. Her Web site, GoMaryKim.com, seems to sum up the spirit with which she undertakes the challenge of a major political campaign in a conservative Republican state - Sen. John McCain territory.
Nick Lowery, former All-Pro NFL football player with the Kansas City Chiefs and now founder of the NBNY Youth Leadership Institute, thanked her for her time with the students as dozens of them circled her for photo opportunities.