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News from the Southwest: Oklahoma congressional candidate meets with tribal leaders

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TAHLEQUAH, Okla. - Making her bid to be the first American Indian woman in Congress, Kalyn Free is visiting with Indian leaders and tribal members across the state to ask for their support in the 2004 election. Free is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, the third largest Indian tribe in the United States, and a candidate for Oklahoma's Second District congressional seat.

On Jan. 5 Free met with American Indian leaders and members of several tribes at a meeting hosted by the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians to ask for their support.

"We are happy to host this meeting to give people the opportunity to voice their concerns and to participate in the democratic process," said Charles Deason, UKB legislative liaison.

Free told the crowd she was born in Latimer County, Okla., the daughter of an oil-field worker and could relate to the issues and concerns of working people having earned a living working, among other things, at a convenience store while attending college. Free credited Oklahoma's public school system with providing an excellent education and firm foundation for success. Free graduated from Southeastern Oklahoma State University in 1984 earning a BA in History and a BA in Communications and then graduated from the University of Oklahoma College of Law in 1987. At age 23 Free was the youngest attorney ever hired by the U.S. Department of Justice. In 1987 she began her career in the Attorney General's Honors Program in Washington, D.C. as a trial attorney in the Environmental Enforcement Section. She was then promoted to Senior Counsel in the Indian Resources Section, where she supervised environmental litigation throughout Indian country until 1998. In 1998, Free returned to Oklahoma and was the first woman elected to the office of District Attorney of Pittsburg and Haskell counties in southeastern Oklahoma.

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Saying she dedicated the first 10 years of her career to aggressively protecting and advancing tribal sovereignty Free said she was responsible for setting precedents on behalf of Indian nations across the country citing the filing of the very first joint complaint between the United States and Indian nations with Puyallups and Muckleshoots in Washington and the first Safe Drinking Water Act case for the Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma. Free said that tribal leaders know that she will always be an advocate for Indian tribes, which is why Indian tribes across the nation are supporting her campaign.

There are 15 tribes and an Indian population of more than 16 percent in Oklahoma's Second District said Free who promises to continue being a proactive voice for tribal sovereignty.

Among Free's other top priorities are children's issues and child abuse, family violence, sexual assault, victims' rights, mental health issues, substance abuse and treatment options, poverty, public education, higher education, health care, the environment, family and women's issues, labor, veterans' issues, family farms, patients' rights, and protecting Social Security.