A note to our readers, and an apology.
We are updating two Tone Madison stories, and entirely retracting two, involving a prominent artist and community member who has been exposed for pretending to be Native.
Evidence posted in an online forum in November accused Kay LeClaire, who also went by the name nibiiwakamigkwe, of having entirely white ancestry and lying about their heritage. LeClaire is further accused of buying art from Etsy merchants and passing it off as their own, authentically Native, work. giige, a queer- and Indigenous-owned tattoo studio LeClaire co-founded on Willy Street, has officially parted ways with LeClaire. A detailed Madison365 story further explores LeClaire’s role in the community and the significance of this apparent deception.
LeClaire, under the byline nibiiwakamigkwe, authored a commentary article for Tone Madison in November 2021 about the raising of the Ho-Chunk Nation flag on the UW-Madison campus. We can no longer stand behind this commentary, because in the piece LeClaire falsely presents themselves as an Indigenous person. By publishing this article, Tone Madison presented LeClaire as a credible voice on the experiences of Indigenous people in Madison and on the UW campus. We apologize for our role in creating this harm.
The ultimate responsibility for enabling this false representation on Tone Madison‘s platform rests with me, as publisher of Tone Madison. While an unwitting mistake—I was unfortunately one of many people LeClaire had fooled across cultural, activism, and media circles, including many Native people—it does unconscionable injury to our community.
Racial fraud is not a new problem in Madison. We acknowledge that the overwhelming whiteness of media outlets, including Tone Madison, makes the problem worse. We realize the work doesn’t end at addressing past mistakes.
Several other Tone Madison stories over the years have cited LeClaire (again, as nibiiwakamigkwe), cited their claims of Native ancestry as fact, and presented them as an authority on Native culture, history, and/or art, namely:
- My October 2019 report on the name change at The Winnebago, an east-side venue that is now The Bur Oak.
- Our May 2020 podcast/livestream interview with LeClaire about their art.
- An August 2020 story on giige.
Citations in these articles initially listed the tribal affiliations LeClaire claimed, in keeping with Native American Journalists Association guidelines. So did an author bio created when LeClaire authored their November 2021 commentary article. These references have been removed, and an editor’s note appended to the articles. The author bio has also been removed, as it uses a Native name that cannot be separated from their allegedly false claims about their identity.
For the time being, the articles will remain live in their corrected/amended/retracted state. I think disappearing content from the internet without explanation is unethical; it would create confusion and would undermine accountability and transparency. People are sharing links to some of these articles in the aforementioned forum, so to have the links suddenly point to 404s would undermine our efforts to take responsibility for our role in providing LeClaire a platform. We aim to address our mistakes, not hide the fact that we made them in the first place.
I encourage other organizations, especially white-led media and arts organizations, to address their own roles in giving them a platform. I condemn the attacks people have made on LeClaire’s now-former colleagues at giige, who had to navigate an incredibly difficult situation as they cut ties with LeClaire.