Last fall, Gari Lafferty and her husband left their remote Native American reservation in southern Utah and boarded a flight to the nation’s capital, where they toured monuments with their family and attended a Washington Redskins’ game against the New York Giants at FedEx Field.
The home team lost by 31 points, but the trip was still special. With his arms around their shoulders, team President Bruce Allen posed for a photo before the game with Lafferty and her husband, both clad in team gear. Best of all, the entire trip – flights and hotel rooms, along with game tickets for at least nine family members – was paid for by the foundation that team owner Dan Snyder created to help Native Americans.
On Thursday, that six-month-old trip and other perks Lafferty accepted from the foundation (including a football signed by Robert Griffin III) helped lead to her dismissal as leader of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah.
The furor engulfing the 900-member community offers a rare glimpse into how Snyder’s Original Americans Foundation interacts with tribes across the country — and the way the controversy surrounding the team’s name sometimes sparks dissension.
The foundation, which was created last spring, has kept its activities largely private. But it has courted dozens of tribes — many of them in rural areas desperate for help — offering playgrounds, vans, shoes and thousands of coats, along with other support.
Though the young organization has yet to disclose its financial activities to the IRS, it is spending millions of dollars on 220 projects with more than 50 federally recognized tribes, according to a team spokesman.
As part of a nationwide survey to determine Indian communities’ needs, Original Americans’ officials spoke to the Paiute’s economic development director, Gaylord Robb, in January 2014, according to an email exchange obtained by the Post.
In April , Dewey Webb, a foundation official, wrote Robb that the organization was working with several Utah tribes and offered to give the Paiute an eight-passenger, four-wheel drive Chevrolet van to navigate their 20,ooo-acre reservation.
“It’s great to know the Washington Redskins sponsors such a great activity and supports Native Americans,” Robb wrote back. “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.”
Robb went on to invite foundation officials to the tribe’s summer powwow.
In early May, Lafferty travelled to Washington for a health conference. While there, she met with the foundation’s head, Gary L. Edwards, to thank him for the van.
Over lunch, she said, Edwards asked her how she felt about the mascot.
Lafferty said she told him that the name didn’t offend her, though she did offer one suggestion: Lighten the mascot’s skin tone.
“We’re not maroon,” she said. “We’re brown.”
Lafferty said she asked if the foundation would give the Paiute two more vans (One of the two additional vans has been provided to date). And, according to the minutes of a later council meeting, Lafferty also gave “a wish list” to the foundation. It included iPads, a new powwow arbor and support in arranging a joint venture with Pilot Flying J, the national operator of travel centers and travel plazas.
Edwards, the minutes said, told Lafferty the Redskins’ organization had a partnership with the company and would try to help.
Before her meeting with Edwards ended, Lafferty mentioned that her son-in-law was a lifelong Redskins fan: “If you got him a football, that would be really nice.”
A Griffin-autographed ball arrived in Utah before she even got home.
Sometime over the summer the foundation offered to bring her family to Washington. Lafferty, who around the same time underwent conflict-of-interest training, received $284 from the tribe to cover her meals over four days because she considered it a business trip.
In the District, Lafferty said, she and two members of the Cree Nation attended a foundation-arranged luncheon where they discussed issues related to Native American education.
The foundation also gave Lafferty’s family tickets to the Sept. 25 Giants game.
At an October 1 council meeting, according to the minutes, Lafferty discussed the luncheon but didn’t mention the game. A fellow council member suggested that because of the controversy surrounding the name, “maybe we should step back as a Tribe” in their dealings with the foundation.
For the Paiute, the moniker debate is particularly significant because one of its members, Phil Gover, is among a group of Native Americans challenging the Redskins’ trademark protections.
No one has alleged that foundation officials asked the Paiutes for anything in return for the gifts to Lafferty and the tribe, but Gover still questioned the organization’s motives.
“This isn’t an attempt to do good in Indian Country. It’s an attempt to divide people,” said Gover, who is Lafferty’s cousin and lives in Oklahoma. “If the tribe accepts the gift, it lends the veneer of support. ... The strings attached are your dignity.”
It’s not the first time that the name debate has created or exacerbated tribal divisions.
The Navajo, Zuni and Cree have all had internal clashes because of members’ dealings with the team, with some dismissing the name as innocuous and others calling it a racial slur.
Lafferty’s fellow council members charged her last week with six counts of misconduct, half of which are connected to her relationship with the foundation. At least two of the other council members, Gover said, vehemently oppose the name.
Lafferty, a devout Dallas Cowboys’ fan, insists that her colleagues knew about the football just days after she received it and about the trip before it ever happened. None of them, she said, objected to the perks back then.
“If I’m guilty, they’re guilty,” she said, adding that she believes their motives to oust her are political. (One of the charges not related to the Redskins involves the daughter of the vice-chairperson, whom Lafferty beat for the top position in a 2013 election.)
Still, tribal rules prohibit council members from taking gifts of more than $50, and when asked whether accepting the perks could have created a conflict of interest, she said: “I can’t lie. It did cross my mind.”
Lafferty, who said her job paid about $30,000 a year, maintains that she’s done nothing wrong because she didn’t give the team or foundation anything in return.
“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.”