Utah tribal leader removed from office for taking gifts from Washington NFL team
The leader of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah was voted unanimously out of office on Thursday for accepting gifts from a foundation connected to Washington D.C.’s National Football League team, Deadspin reported.
“The role of a tribal official is to act to make the tribe better, but the actions of Gari Lafferty since she took office have served neither the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah nor its elected council,” the tribe’s vice chair, Jeanine Borchardt, said in a statement. “Gari Lafferty’s actions served only her self-interest. We are deeply saddened in taking this action.”
The Paiute tribal council removed Lafferty from her $30,000-a-year position for accepting a free trip to Washington with members of her family last September to watch the team play. The expenses were covered by the Original Americans Foundation, which the team created following criticism from Native American activists over its continued use of the name “Redskins.”
According to the council, Lafferty failed to disclose both the game and an autographed football she received, violating tribal policy. Tribal officials are not allowed to receive gifts above $50 in value. The football alone, the tribe said, is valued at between $75 and $600 because it was autographed by quarterback Robert Griffin III.
She did, however, tell the council that she attended a luncheon discussing issues related to education for Native Americans arranged by the foundation while she was in the city. The Washington Post reported that she received $284 for her four-day stay in Washington, covering her meals for what she called a business trip at the time.
Lafferty told the Post that she did not give either the foundation or the football team anything in return for the free trip.
“They have not asked us to take pictures, to sign any agreements, to say the Paiute Tribe of Utah supports the Washington Redskins,” she said. “You’re being bought if you know you’re being bought.”
The foundation first contacted the tribe last January. Three months later, the group offered a vehicle described as an “eight-passenger, four-wheel drive Chevrolet van” for use on the tribe’s 20,000-acre reservation in southern Utah. The Paiute’s economic development director, Gaylord Robb, responded by inviting foundation officials to the tribe’s powwow that summer.
“It’s great to know the Washington Redskins sponsors such a great activity and supports Native Americans,” Robb wrote in an email to foundation representative Dewey Webb. “The Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah will be able to do so much more for our elders, veterans, and our children having a nice reliable van to transport them to various activities.”
Lafferty met with foundation CEO Gary L. Edwards in May 2014, four months before going to the game, to ask for help in working with the Pilot Flying J truck stop chain. She also expressed her thanks for the vehicle and gave Edwards a “wish list” that included iPads and a new powwow arbor. She also suggested to him that the team should lighten their mascot’s skin tone.
“We’re not maroon,” she said. “We’re brown.”
A foundation spokesperson, Maury Lane, told the Associated Press on Thursday that it considered the issue an internal matter within the tribe.
“We have had long a relationship with the Paiute Indian Tribe and look forward to continuing to assist them with their quality of life issues,” Lane said.