A Utah tribal leader was ousted from office Thursday for accepting gifts from the Washington Redskins, which council members say wrongly linked their tribe to the NFL team's divisive name.
Members of the council of the Cedar City-based Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah said they voted unanimously to remove Chairwoman Gari Lafferty, who was accused of misconduct and ethical violations for accepting an autographed football and a trip to Washington, D.C., to attend a Redskins game last year.
The council said in a statement that those gifts wrongly tied the tribe to a name some American Indians find derogatory.
In an interview Thursday, Lafferty said the team never asked her to endorse or advocate for the name. She said the tribal council was aware of both the signed football, which went to her son-in-law, and the trip.
Both came after the tribe responded to a survey from the team's Original Americans Foundation — meant to "provide meaningful and measurable resources that provide genuine opportunities" for Native Americans — asking about tribal needs. The foundation donated three vans, two of which have arrived.
"We're a part of the foundation for the good things they want to do to help," she said. "Nothing was said, and now, bam! All of sudden it's an issue."
Lafferty said the tribe doesn't have an official position on the name, but she doesn't have a personal problem with it. She said the allegations are more related to her leadership style, and her suggestion that there be term limits for council members.
Other councilors said they weren't informed about the gifts, which came shortly after ethical training barring the acceptance of items worth more than $50.
"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," said Jeanine Borchardt, the tribal council's vice chairwoman, in a statement.
Lafferty is reviewing her options after the removal announcement, according to her attorney, Katie James.
The debate over the name has special significance because a tribe member is a plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking to cancel the Washington Redskins trademark, tribal administrative charging documents state.
The federal Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled in the plaintiffs' favor last year — saying the Washington Redskins will no longer have exclusive rights to the team's name and logo — but the team is appealing the decision.
Thousands protested across the country last year in favor of changing the name. U.S. President Barack Obama waded into the debate, saying that if he were the team's owner he would "think about changing" the name because it offends a "sizeable group of people."
A spokesman for the Redskins' Original Americans Foundation said the allegations are an internal matter to be decided by the tribal council.
"We have had a long relationship with the Paiute Indian Tribe and look forward to continuing to assist them with their quality of life issues," said the spokesman, Maury Lane.
Another American Indian leader raised questions when he appeared at a Redskins game last year. Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly said he talked about expanding a licensing agreement with Redskins owner Dan Snyder at the October game in Arizona.
The Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah has about 940 members and is based near Cedar City, about 250 miles south of Salt Lake City. The tribe of Utah consists of five bands: Cedar, Indian Peaks, Kanosh, Koosharem and Shivwits. Lafferty was elected to the tribe's top leadership position about two years ago.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press