Deputy chief candidates talk health care, education, culture

04/23/2019 04:30 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Nation deputy chief candidates Meredith Frailey and Bryan Warner hug following their April 16 debate on the campus of Northeastern State University in Tahlequah. The Cherokee Phoenix hosted the debate, which also featured principal chief candidates. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Nation deputy chief candidate Meredith Frailey answers a question on April 16 during a debate hosted by the Cherokee Phoenix at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Nation deputy chief candidate Bryan Warner speaks on April 16 during a debate hosted by the Cherokee Phoenix at Northeastern State University. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation’s two deputy chief opponents tackled various talking points on April 16 during a debate that began and ended with hugs.

Meredith Frailey, of Locust Grove, and Bryan Warner, of Sallisaw, fielded five predetermined questions composed by the Cherokee Phoenix staff, which hosted the event at Northeastern State University.

Candidates were not given prior access to the questions, but were allowed time for opening and closing remarks.

The winner of the June 1 general election will replace outgoing Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden.

Frailey served on the Tribal Council from 2003-13. She is a Mayes County commissioner and Locust Grove city attorney. Frailey’s running mate is principal chief candidate David Walkingstick.

“I want to help our people become satisfied with their own personal achievement,” Frailey said, “foster happy, functional families, strong and supportive communities and a vibrant tribal government.”

Warner, a former college science instructor, is campus director at Carl Albert State College in Sallisaw. He is the Dist. 6 tribal councilor and represents part of Sequoyah County. Warner’s running mate is principal chief candidate Chuck Hoskin Jr.

“I can guarantee you that I want to be a full-time, all-in, 24/7 deputy chief,” Warner said.

Cherokee Nation Services

Frailey said all are essential, but one of her priorities is “to expand and improve behavioral health.”

“The opioid epidemic in Indian Country and in Oklahoma is tragic,” she said. “It’s the second-largest major cause of death in ages 10-24. It’s important that we build a treatment center that includes a detox center that includes counseling for our families, for our children, because they’re all affected. The community is affected.”

Warner agreed that “all services are important” but emphasized health care.

“I know for many people listening with discernment, heath care is ultimately one of the most important things that we do,” he said. “We always need to look to how can we improve because our Cherokee people are vital to us. I know that we need more doctors, we’re looking for shorter wait times, we’re looking to cut that red tape, and we’re looking to grow the next generation of Cherokee doctors.”

Scholarships: Grades vs. Needs

“I think it should be provided on academic record,” Frailey said. “There are many low-income children who live in poverty who are just as smart as those that are otherwise. That is so important that we provide scholarships not only for our people that live within the 14 counties, but also provide scholarships for those that live at-large.”

Warner said he was in favor of both.

“For me, it’s not an either/or,” he said. “What we need to look at is how can we best serve all of our students whether it be financial need or academic record. We fund over 5,000 scholarships each year, but I want to be able to fund more. The Cherokee people have always invested in education. That’s been one of the most important things we’ve done.”

Succeeding in College or Trade Schools

“For me, this is something we work on directly at Carl Albert State College,” Warner said. “As we look at national statistics, the trend is that the retention rates and graduation rates aren’t as high for Native students as they need to be.”

Warner added that certain barriers for Cherokee students, such as a lack of transportation or food at home, should be addressed.

Frailey said, “trade school is just as important as college.”

“We’ve got to prepare these children from the cradle to their career,” she said. “Vo-techs are just as important. My grandson wants to be an electrician. So I’ve encouraged him to do that. The whole person has to be considered whenever we help them with their scholarships whether it be to a four-year college or an industrial trade school.”

Preserving Language and Culture

“Our language is who we are,” Frailey said. “We need to develop immersion schools within the 14-county jurisdiction and also provide language classes online. We can work with the schools to implement these programs, but we’ve got to have effective teachers in order to do that. There’s got to be a good training program for teachers that teach the language.”

Warner said preserving culture, history and language takes leaders willing to invest.

“We have the immersion program,” he said. “They have in the past three created the master-apprentice language program. We just need to be leaders that don’t just talk about culture and language. We need to be leaders that make strong financial decisions that will allow us to preserve the language for generations to come.”
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