Wisconsin Art Leader Accused of Faking Native American Heritage for Monetary Gain

The co-owner of a queer Indigenous artists' collective in Wisconsin is facing accusations of being white after claiming to be of Native American heritage, according to a report.

Kay LeClaire, who identifies as non-binary, allegedly faked her indigenous heritage and used the front to make money, according to a local outlet.

LeClaire Accused After Her Real Genealogy Shared on Online Forum

Kay LeClaire
Kay LeClaire Facebook

LeClaire was accused in an online forum of actually being white after claiming since 2017 they were of Metis, Oneida, Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Cuban and Jewish heritage, Madison 365 reported on Tuesday.

LeClaire, also a founding member of the collective and emerging leader in the Madison Indigenous arts community, earned artist stipends, a paid residency at the University of Wisconsin, speaking gigs, and art exhibitions with the help of their Native American claim.

But LeClaire, who went by the Native American name nibiiwakamigkwe, was allegedly exposed after a hobbyist genealogist posted evidence of LeClair's real genealogy on an online forum, the outlet noted. The online forum user, AdvancedSmite, told Madison 365 that questions about LeClaire's claims led to some digging.

The user, who did not want to reveal their actual identity to the outlet, used online records and resources to connect LeClaire's lineage to German, Swedish and French Canadian and posted the findings on the forum.

LeClaire Released a Statement In the Wake of Allegations

LeClaire didn't answers questions when contacted by Madison 365, but instead sent a long statement. LeClaire reportedly said any culturally related items they had are being given back to the community and vowed not to seek new grants while taking themselves off current grants.

"I am sorry," they reportedly wrote. "A lot of information has come to my attention since late December. I am still processing it all and do not yet know how to respond adequately. What I can do now is offer change."

"Moving forward, my efforts will be towards reducing harm by following the directions provided by Native community members and community-specified proxies," she added. "Currently, this means that I am not using the Ojibwe name given to me and am removing myself from all community spaces, positions, projects, and grants and will not seek new ones."

The collective said in an Instagram post the organization and LeClaire parted ways as of Dec. 31, 2022. "The collective at giige would like to extend our gratitude and utmost sympathy to the Indigenous community within and surrounding Teejop in the wake of the recent revelation of the many harms committed by former co-founder Kay Le Claire," part of the post read. "Evidence has come to light indicating that Kay Le Claire has made false claims regarding their heritage, their art, and their position in the community."