Tribal Councilor David Walkingstick and Mayes County Commissioner and former Tribal Council Speaker Meredith Frailey announced their campaigns for Principal Chief and Deputy Chief of the Cherokee Nation, introducing themselves to their voters.
Walkingstick and Frailey championed a need for more transparency and accountability in tribal government and, “a truly self sufficient tribal nation, where all citizens can thrive.”
Walkingstick grew up in the “sticks” outside of Tahlequah, where he attended the Tahelquah Sequoyah Indian School.
He was inspired by his father, who served for many years at the Chief of the Cherokee Nation Marshall Service. His mother was an educator.
They lived on a farm, raising cattle and cutting wood.
“My father would load me up in his car. He had one of those magnetic lights that you stick on the hood and plug into the cigarette lighter. We would go throughout the 14 counties of the Cherokee Nation and patrol all the housing authorities that Chief Swimmer and other chiefs had set up,” Walkingstick said. “I remember him visiting with the elders, trading knives and watches. We would go to the Bell Pow Wow and the Cherokee National Holiday because dad was always working those.”
“At an early age, I grew up understanding our ways and our civic service,” Walkingstick said.
Walkingstick played basketball at Connors State and Oklahoma Baptist University. He earned a master’s degree from East Central University in Ada.
Walkingstick has worked as a basketball coach and an educator for 13 years.
“Later in life, I was 28 years old, and many of the elders in my area that knew my dad wanted me to run for the tribal council and get involved in the Cherokee Nation,” Walkingstick said. “I prayed about it and after many prayers I ran and was elected.”
He was appointed as the chairman of education and became a federal programs director at Muskogee Public Schools, a position he resigned from last year.
“Over the years I have seen a lot of growth in the Cherokee Nation. I’d like to maintain those things, but there are some other areas that we need to improve on,” Walkingstick said.
Walkingstick said the role of the Principal Chief is, “to preserve and protect our culture and language, diversify our business, modernize our healthcare, create jobs, improve the lives of Cherokee people, uphold our Constitution and protect our sovereignty.”
Walkingstick was brief on why he was the best choice.
“I’m honest and transparent,” Walkingstick said. “I have a business background on diversification to lead our tribe into the future.”
Frailey is from Locust Grove, where she grew up learning from her mother, Susie Swimmer.
“The Swimmer family has always believed in the Cherokee traditions, culture and values,” Frailey said. “My mom was a full blood Cherokee citizen and fluent speaker of our language.”
Susie was taken from her home at four years old and placed in an orphan asylum with the intent to strip her of her language, culture, traditions and values.
“She never complained about the misfortune and I was greatly influenced by her,” Frailey said. “She worked all her life taking care of others. I’ve seen her give her time, what little money she had and her talent to other Cherokees in need.”
After graduating from Locust Grove High School, Frailey went on to pursue an undergraduate degree from Northeastern State University and a law degree from University of Tulsa Law School. She also became a licensed airplane pilot.
“My business experience spans manufacturing, oil and gas, banking, education and non-profits,” Frailey said. “I’ve held positions as CEO, executive director of YMCS, marketing director and athletic coach.”
In government, Frailey served as the first speaker of the tribal council for 10 years and as the first female Mayes County Commissioner for a little over two years.
“I have the ability to work with tribal, state, federal and local governments, as well as the business sector,” she said. Frailey said, “The deputy principal chief is second in command of the executive branch of government and part of the team that creates the tribe’s overall vision, mission, values and beliefs.”
“The deputy principal chief assists in devising strategies and formulating policies to ensure goals and objectives are met and can step in when needed in the role of principal chief,” she said.
Frailey said she is the best choice because, “I don’t believe good is good enough.”
“Our government can be better, and better really isn’t good enough if it can be great, which our government can with experienced, honest leaders,” Frailey said. “I have a vast amount of experience in all sectors which can take us another step toward a great future because I have a vision that is big and bold – a truly self sufficient tribal nation, where all citizens can thrive.”
Among the items on their platform were accountability and transparency in tribal government, economic development and business diversification, health care reform to retain and recruit doctors, more new housing each year, protecting the Cherokee identity and heritage through immersion schools and improved language programs and defend tribal sovereignty, among other issues.
“The biggest thing we need to improve on is the modernization of our health care,” Walkingstick said. “We have people eight to 10 hours to see a physician. Some folks are having to wait three months to see a primary care physician.”
Walkingstick’s plan to modernize healthcare and decrease the waiting time by retaining and recruiting doctors.
“My last eight years on the tribal council we have lost 140 doctors,” Walkingstick said.
Business diversification is another big issue for the campaign.
“We’ve come a long way with our casinos and we have saturated the whole northeast area with casinos, but the fact is, not everybody wants to work in a casino,” Walkingstick said.
“We have to diversify immediately and expand employment in our rural areas,” he said. “Adair County is the known as the most impoverished county in the state of Oklahoma and also has the shortest life expectancy.”
Frailey said, “We need to promote economic and industrial development so our people have quality, good-paying jobs and alleviate the financial burden of our government.”
Speaking of casinos, Walkingstick addressed the gaming compact, which is up for renegotiation in 2020.
“If the state of Oklahoma decides they want to have non-Indians gaming in Oklahoma, its going to be our fault for not diversifying,” Walkingstick said. “It is a detriment to our tribe that we are not doing more.”
The shared identity, what it means to be Cherokee, is another crucial piece of their platform.
“We have lost our identity as a tribe,” Walkingstick said. “We have turned into a corporation.”
Walkingstick lamented that there were less than 2,000 fluent Cherokee speakers. He said that 85 percent were over age 60 and that the Cherokee language could be completely wiped out within the next 20 years unless the nation becomes more intentional about preservation.
“If we have no language, we have no culture as an Indian tribe,” Walkingstick said.
Walkingstick and Frailey hope to revitalize language programs both in-person and online, revitalize the Trail of Tears drama and the Cherokee Heritage Center and develop immersion schools where people can steep themselves in the history and learn the stories.
Frailey said, “We need to include culture and tradition in all our important decisions.”
“If our story is forgotten, history tends to repeat itself,” Walkingstick said. “We want our story to stay fresh with the people in Washington DC.”
Both candidates emphasized the need for adequate housing, particularly in rural areas, and a desire to build 300 new homes each year.
“We need to provide comfortable homes for our people and get them out of dilapidated housing,” Frailey said.
Walkingstick said many elders in his community are living in homes that are simply unacceptable.
“We have to find a way to improve our quality of life for Cherokees and for future Cherokee children,” he said.
In education, Walkingstick and Frailey want to continue to provide scholarships and help students overcome barriers to financial aid.
The candidates emphasized a need to address issues of accountability and transparency.
“We need to tighten up our nepotism laws and end the corruption in the Cherokee nation,” Walkingstick said. “Our people are asking for honesty and transparency.”
“Its not about what direction you are going in, but how you get there,” Walkingstick said. “The Cherokee Nation has squandered millions of dollars to politicians. I’m aware of what we could do with those moneys to impact services.”
Election reform is also a hot topic for Walkingstick.
“When 51 percent of our votes are absentees, there is a problem,” he said, indicating that majority of voters aren’t feeling the impact of their vote in the same way as people who live, work and vote within the nation’s boundaries.
“The people who walk in and vote, those are the people who are concerned with and impacted by what happens in the Cherokee Nation day to day,” he said. “Absentees suppress that walk-in vote.”
He suggested the nation follow the state of Oklahoma’s model.
“The way our elections are being won is legal, but it’s not ethical,” he said.
“It’s a crazy time in the Cherokee Nation,” Walkingstick said, “but I’m praying God gives people the gift of discernment.”