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Tipsheet

‘Non-Binary’ Founder of Indigenous Artists’ Collective Accused of Faking Native American Heritage

Images via Madison365

The co-owner of a “queer Indigenous artists’ collective” in Wisconsin reportedly faked her Native American background and “used the front to make money,” the New York Post reported.

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Kay LeClaire, a woman who identifies as “non-binary,” was accused in an online forum of being white after claiming for years that she was of Metis, Oneida, Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Cuban and German descent. LeClaire is a founding member of an art collective and is well-known in the Indigenous arts community in Madison, Wisconsin. LeClaire went by the Indigenous name “Nibiiwakamigkwe,” the Post noted.

Reportedly, LeClaire earned artist stipends, a paid residency at the University of Wisconsin, paid speaking gigs, and art exhibitions based on her Native American background. But, a “hobbyist genealogist” who did not reveal their identity posted evidence of LeClaire’s real ancestry on an online forum. It showed that LeClaire is of German, Swedish, and French Canadian descent.

“I am sorry,” LeClaire reportedly told local outlet Madison365. “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. 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,” LeClaire added.

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The art collective said in an Instagram post that it had parted ways with LeClaire on Dec. 31, 2022.


“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,” the organization said. “This person has both gone against our inherent values and perpetuated harm within the Teejop community and beyond. Without our knowledge or consent, Kay Le Claire used our position as an Indigenous-led business to inflate their platform and expand their access to an already vulnerable community.”

The anonymous user who published LeClaire’s ancestry online went by the screen name “AdvancedSmite.” They spoke with Madison365 and revealed they are of Native American heritage.

“I have a skill and I saw something and I did what I could,” they said, adding later that the “pretendian problem is a long term, strategic issue.”

Nipinet Landsem, a tattoo artist in the Madison area who is of Native American descent, told Madison365 that they “had suspicions” about LeClaire.

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“I was so relieved that someone else had called it out and I didn’t have to. I’ve had my suspicions, but I didn’t have anything confirmed,” Landsem said.

Townhall reported that several high-profile activists had been caught pretending to have Native American ancestry, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Canadian academic Carrie Bourassa, and actress Sacheen Littlefeather, whose sisters came forward late last year after her death to reveal that she was of Mexican descent. 

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