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Gari Pikyavit Lafferty: NMAI’s Meet Native America Series

The National Museum of the American Indian interview series Meet Native America continues today with Chairwoman Gari Pikyavit Lafferty.

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Gari Pikyavit Lafferty, chairwoman of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah

Where is your tribe located? 

Our tribe is made up of five bands of Paiutes. From the north to south in Utah, we are the Koosharem Band, in Richfield, Utah; Kanosh Band, in Kanosh; Cedar Band and Indian Peaks Band, in the Cedar City area; and Shivwits Band, in St. George.

Where were the five bands originally from?

We have always been in central and southern Utah area.

What is a significant point in history from your people that you would like to share?

On Febuary 27, 1953, the federal government outlined a strategy for termination. Our tribe was terminated in 1954. Federal assistance ended for our people. It's written that almost immediately after termination began, it became clear it was a mistake. Struggling for survival, the Southern Paiutes in Utah worked their way through an alien legal and bureaucratic maze to finally win restoration on April 3, 1980. During termination the Paiutes lost well over 15,000 acres of land.

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

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Responsibilities come in all forms, from attending monthly meetings, attending state affairs, federal issues that may have some kind of effect on your tribe. It's vital as well that your Native community see you as often as possible.

I am on the road a lot, out and about for our tribe. It's very critical for me to be active in my Native community. I like being with the people, and I never forget they are the ones who put me here as chairwoman. I should add, though, that my family time is important to me more then ever.

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe?

It's interesting how someone comes to tribal leadership or tribal politics. As for myself, it's something that was instilled in me at a young age. I am proud to say that with my dad and grandfathers and many family members, leadership runs deep in my family. My sister Marguerite Pikyavit Teller was the first woman elected chair of the Paiute Tribe. It was only a matter of time for me.

I am a mother of five amazing children—Heston Smith, Mckinley Smith, Sable Lafferty, Charles M. P. Lafferty, and Aries Jackson. I'm married to one great man, Charles Lafferty, who supports me. At times he doesn't understand why I have chosen to put myself in this position. It's not for everyone. You have to be cut from a different kind of cloth. If you're a weeping willow, it's not for you. But if you can withstand the storm that comes with politics, then this is the job for you.

My dad told me at a very young age, "Gari, you will be sitting at the head of the tribe one day." I have always been active in community affairs as well—school, church, band, tribal.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

My father is my greatest mentor of all. I am very proud to say that my father was the last chief of our people—Chief Mckay Richard Pikyavit. My dad was so amazing there just isn't enough paper or time to say all I would like to say about him. My father was very much a family man, he took his responsibilities as a father very seriously. My father was a farmhand at a young age, then worked for our county road department. We had a large family, so when my brothers and sisters got older my mother worked as well.

My father was very active in tribal affairs. Community, church, school—my dad said you have to be out doing all you can in your community to make a difference. My father was one that spearheaded the work for our tribal restatement under the federal government. I remember being a young child and seeing my dad traveling the state of Utah to meet with others working towards the goal of our restoration as a federally recognized tribe. After long years of hard work, it came to pass on April 3, 1980, signed into law by President Carter. The dream of action came to pass.

I saw the long hours, days, months, years it took for this to happen. So I think that if I can do a fourth of what my dad achieved for the Paiute people, I will leave feeling I was a very accomplished leader for our people. Well, I have to say that I am very proud I am the daughter of Mckay Richard Pikyavit, the last chief of the Paiute people.

To read the full interview, visit the NMAI series here.