No, It’s Never Okay to Pretend You’re Indigenous

By Christina Lorey

January 5, 2023

After a white Madisonian made headlines for moonlighting as a Native person, we hear from them and the tribe members hurt by their actions.

In early 2020, an “Indigenous artist” made headlines for urging the owners of a new Madison music venue to change its name. The venue was called The Winnebago, and the person, who referred to themself as “nibiiwakamigkwe,” said the name wasn’t appropriate for a white-owned business.

“I’m glad the owners have decided to no longer profit from the identities of Indigenous peoples,” they wrote in an editorial for Our Lives Wisconsin after the owners eventually relented and rebranded as The Burr Oak.

The problem? The person, whose real name is Kay LeClaire, is not Indigenous and was, in fact, profiting from the identities of Indigenous peoples, according to an expose by Madison 365

In addition to being a member and co-owner of giige, a queer Indigenous artists’ collective, LeClaire made money off of several artists’ stipends, a paid residency at the University of Wisconsin, a place on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force, and various speaking gigs and art exhibits across the state.

Their Reaction

LeClaire declined our request to be interviewed but emailed a brief apology to Madison365 after they revealed their fully fabricated identity.

“I am sorry,” they wrote. “A lot of information has come to my attention. I am still processing it all and do not yet know how to respond adequately. What I can do now is offer change. 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 also declined to answer follow-up questions, including who gave them their Ojibwe name and what information “came to their attention.”

Indigenous Reaction

We connected with Dawn Moneyhan, a Native American and tribal member of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, to get her response. 

“My opinion starts with, ‘Wow,’ but no surprise,” she said. “I see someone who appears to be mentally ill and to have committed a federal felony in profiting from claimed indigenous-made art, as well as a potential form of identity theft that needs to be prosecuted and held accountable for their actions while receiving treatment for their mental illness.”

“Mentally healthy people just don’t do something like that,” she added.

What You Can Do

LeClaire’s ability to easily impersonate an indigenous person reveals another problem: how little attention is paid to Wisconsin’s Native community. 

“While we need allies, we need sincere allies who present themselves as such, not people who seek to profit off of us,” Moneyhan explained. 

Her requests?

  • If you see something, say something. “If in doubt, reach out and ask,” she said. “Many of our tribes have websites. We’re just a few clicks away.”
  • Shop at actual Native-run small businesses {and non-profits), or plan a visit to one of these nine reservations in Wisconsin.

Stop supporting people who are profiting off Indigenous culture. County fairs, carnivals, and other places with “living history events” are often not affiliated with actual tribes. Ask to see a tribal ID or enrollment card before giving someone your money.


  • Christina Lorey

    Christina is an Edward R. Murrow-winning journalist and former producer, reporter, and anchor for TV stations in Madison and Moline. When she’s not writing or asking questions, you can find her volunteering with Girls on the Run, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and various mental health organizations.

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