Kay LeClaire's transformation from a white woman to a two-spirit

REVEALED: Race faker’s two-year transformation from a white woman to an Indigenous two-spirit ‘pretendian’ – who made peers suspicious with her ‘tanning booth complexion’ and RESOLD real Native crafts from Etsy

  • Kay LeClaire identified themselves on Facebook as a ‘white woman’ in July 2017
  • By 2019, they publicly identified as a Native American two-spirit, a term used to describe a non-binary gender identity
  • LeClaire went on to found a queer Indigenous artists’ collective and resold real Native American crafts she bought on Etsy
  • They are now being accused of being a ‘pretendian’ — a term Natives use for people who pretend to have Indigenous lineage

Photos obtained by DailyMail.com show just how Kay LeClaire was able to transform herself over the course of just two years from a white college student to an Indigenous two-spirit — fooling even some in the Native American community itself.

LeClaire identified themselves on Facebook as a ‘white woman’ in July 2017 as they spoke of they nuptials with Adam Pagenkopf the following summer.

But by 2019, they publicly identified as a Native American ‘two-spirit,’ which is a term many Indigenous people use to describe a non-binary gender identity.

LeClaire even went on to co-found a queer Indigenous artists’ collective in Wisconsin, and started buying Native American art from Etsy which they would passing off as their own and sell to unsuspecting buyers.

Some in the Native community have now said they had their suspicions about LeClaire, who went from a light-haired brunette to a tan woman with dark hair over the course of just a few years. 

LeClaire was ultimately forced to step down from their community positions last month after it came to light that they were actually a ‘pretendian’ — a term Natives use for people who pretend to have Indigenous lineage.

It is unclear whether they will face charges for their false claims, as profiting off a false Native American identity is a federal crime.

Kay LeClaire, who also went by the name Nibiiwakamigkwe, and has claimed to be Native American is being accused of being a white woman by hobbyist genealogist AdvancedSmite. They are pictured in their high school graduation picture in 2012

By 2019, they publicly identified as ‘two-spirit,’ which is a term many Indigenous people use to describe a non-binary gender identity

AdvancedSmite, a hobbyist genealogist, has laid out how LeClaire has claimed to have Métis, Oneida, Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Cuban and Jewish heritage.

But using online records and resources, AdvancedSmite discovered LeClaire’s true lineage is German, Swedish and French Canadian.

The anonymous genealogist told  Madison365 that they first became aware of LeClaire through a Facebook ad for an upcoming talk on Indigenous feminism.

It identified LeClaire under her ‘Native name’ Nibiiwakamigkwe, which AdvancedSmite said they found unusual because the given Ojibwe name is ‘typically something that would just be used in ceremony or with other people who are Ojibwe or a part of your community,’ they said.

AdvancedSmite, who is also of Indigenous  then conducted some research and found that while LeClaire is ‘a common Native American last name,’ there were social media posts in which they identified as Anishinaabe.

The genealologist also discovered that LeClaire had previously claimed to be Cuban in bios, interviews and elsewhere through August 31, 2020.

AdvancedSmite then reportedly used online records and resources to find LeClaire’s true lineage – German, Swedish and French Canadian, Madison365 reported, and reported their findings on the New Age Fraud Forum.

It was also claimed on the forum that LeClaire graduated from Hamilton High School in Sussex, Wisconsin, where they were known as Katie Le Claire, in 2012. 

They apparently attended the University of Wisconsin and in the summer of 2018 married fellow Hamilton alum Adam Pagenkopf, a research specialist at UW, it was reported. 

LeClaire graduated from Hamilton High School in Sussex, Wisconsin, where they were known as Katie Le Claire, in 2012. At the high school, they met Adam Pagenkopf

LeClaire is pictured at her wedding to Pagenkopf in 2018. She is now accused of being a ‘pretendian’ — a term Natives use for people who pretend to have Indigenous lineage

LeClaire is pictured in the back right with members of her husband’s family in a recent photo

In a 2017 Facebook post, LeClaire publicly identified themselves as a white woman

AdvancedSmite claimed on the forum that LeClaire worked their way into many institutions and exhibitions and made money by claiming Indigenous heritage.

LeClaire earned several artists’ stipends, a paid residency at the University of Wisconsin, a place on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force and many speaking gigs and art exhibitions, it was reported.

It was also revealed that they bought Native American artwork online, which they would then pawn off to unsuspecting buyers.

As Laura Le Fay posted on Facebook on December 30: ‘I bought a coyote bag that KLC claimed they spent four hours creating in January of 2021.

‘I now know, and have confirmed with the actual artisan, this bag was bought from an Etsy shop and resold.’ 

And in 2019, LeClaire founded the Giige Collective, a group of nonbinary Native artisans in Teejop who would provide customers with traditional Native tattoos.

A poster she made under her fake Native American name was even selected to appear on the Madison Metro Transit.

LeClaire co-founded the Griige Collective, , a group of nonbinary Native artisans in Teejop who would provide customers with traditional Native tattoos, in 2019

A poster she made under her fake Native American name was even selected to appear on the Madison Metro Transit

Several people in the Native American community have since expressed their shock that LeClaire lied about her heritage.

Kanyʌhtakelu Becky Webster, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, for example, posted on Facebook on Saturday: ‘I’ve sat with this Kay LeClaire situation a bit, going through all the emotions, hurt, anger, disbelief.

‘I welcomed them into my home, brought them to ceremonies and bartered my artwork for their fakes,’ she wrote, revealing: ‘Others warned me, but I was hesitant to believe someone could weave such an elaborate web of lies.

‘They were so kind and eager to help and share. They were a ray of sunshine,’ Webster said of LeClaire. ‘They embodied everything you would want in a friend.’

LeClaire had previously disparaged Elizabeth Hoover, who came under fire for falsely claiming Native American ancestry

She continued: ‘Kay stayed with us right after Liz Hoover released her statement admitting she had no verifiable Indigenous ancestors.

‘Kay and I had deep discussions about it. We lamented how much we were hurt by Liz’s actions and her inactions for so long. We were astonished anyone would base an entire identity around unfounded family lore.

‘I thought Kay and I were on the same page with our stance on pretendians and how dangerous they are to our communities. I thought Kay was my friend.’

Speaking to DailyMail.com, Webster said she met LeClaire through the Indigenous food sovereignty movement and ‘we became friends.’

She said LeClaire identified herself as New York Oneida and Ojibwe.

When asked whether she ever doubted those claims, Webster said: ‘There were signs, but I ignored them.

‘Then a couple mutual friends reached out and shared their doubts. During my last visit with Kay, we talked extensively about the Liz Hoover incident (another pretendian). 

‘Kay doubled down and spoke about how terrible Liz’s actions were. It wasn’t until the genealogy report was released before I fully accepted Kay’s lies.’

‘I went through all the emotions, denial at first (I even reached out to Kay with the allegations), then shocked that our doubts were right, sad, angry, betrayed, confused [and] hurt,’ she said. 

‘Most of all, I am mourning a person I thought was my friend, a person that never really existed.’

Webster added that she now hopes LeClaire ‘gets the help she needs’ and ‘apologizes for the damage she caused and admits to what she has done.

‘She has already started giving back to the people they came from,’ Webster said. 

Kanyʌhtakelu Becky Webster posted on Facebook Saturday how she was in disbelief when she saw the news about LeClaire

Namāēwkūkiw Rachel Fernandez also commented on Webster’s post: ‘You’re not alone. I feel this too.’

She said she had connected with LeClaire on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Committee.

But others had their doubts, as Webster mentioned, including Vanessa Besha Casillas who posted on December 28: ‘I will admit I was a bit sus … mostly because of the fake looking mocs and the dyed hair paired with the tanning booth lookin’ complexion.’

A Twitter user also posted: ‘Oh my god, Kay LeClaire being a fraud pretending to be native (but they’re white) has gotten out and I’m shaking with adrenaline because I was waiting for this to spread.’ 

Namāēwkūkiw Rachel Fernandez also commented on Webster’s post: ‘You’re not alone. I feel this too’

Others, though, posted online that they had their suspicions of LeClaire’s claims

LeClaire later apologized in a statement to Madison365.

‘I am sorry,’ they 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.’

The statement went on: ‘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. 

‘Any culturally related items I hold are being redistributed back in community, either to the original makers and gift-givers when possible or elsewhere as determined by community members. Thank you.’

DailyMail.com has also reached out to LeClaire for comment. 

LeClaire, pictured in 2020, has said they have started to give back all of the items they stole to the Native American community

But in a statement posted to Instagram, the other executives at the Giige Collective that they were already working to remove LeClaire as an owner of the company.

In a lengthy statement, they said: ‘The collective at Giige would like to extend our gratitude to the Indigenous community within and surrounding Teejop in the wake of the recent revelation of the many harms committed by former cofounder Kay LeClaire.

‘Evidence has come to light indicating that Kay LeClaire has made false claims regarding their heritage, their art and their position in the community,’ they continued. 

‘It is with great relief and a legal feat behind the scenes that the team at Giige announce our separation from co-founder Kay LeClaire, effective 12/31/2022.

‘The foundation of our collective encompasses gender and trauma-informed care within an Indigenous tattooing space, bringing healing through ink back to Indigenous and queer bodies. 

‘This person has gone against our inherent values and perpetuated harm within the Teejop community and beyond.

‘Without our knowledge and consent, Kay LeClaire used our position as an Indigenous-led business to inflate their platform and expand their access to an already vulnerable community.’

They continued to explain: ‘Our collaboration with Kay LeClaire came from the ethics that form the foundation our business as well as a place of trust.

‘Communities are built on trust and while Kay LeClaire violated that trust, we will not let thier actions shake our beliefs, limit the trust we give our community or compromise our ethics due to their harmful behavior,

‘We want to acknowledge how our platform and community standing allowed Kay LeClaire to increase the amount of harm they were able to do.

‘We express immense gratitude to those that brought this issue to our attention, and sincerely thank everyone who has informed us of the ongoing harm happening outside of and through Giige.’

The company also sought to clarify what role LeClaire played, writing: ‘Kay LeClaire was our administrative associate and our event planner as well as a member of our artist collective.

‘Kay LeClaire was NEVER a tattoo artist at Giige and any tattoos they claim to have created did not take place on the premises.’

The other Giige executives have called on LeClaire, pictured with their husband, to ‘offer a formal apology for any fraud, lies and theft of culture, art and opportunities’

The executives then went on to say they first met LeClaire in late 2019, at which point ‘they were already claiming to be Indigenous… and were vouched for by other trusted community members.

‘We have also been hurt by Kay LeClaire on personal, cultural and financial levels and, unrelated to the allegations made in the NAFPS thread, had been in the process of removing  them from ownership of Giige since October 2022.

‘We were still unaware of the extent of their behavior, so we began a process of resolving our internal conflicts through mediation in November 2022. We were met with resistance and obstruction at every step of the way.

‘We did not become aware of the full extent of their lies until 12/23/2022, at which point we took their removal from ownership of Griige to our lawyer for immediate action instead of continuing discussion with them.’

Griige is now calling on the ‘non-Indigenous businesses that have platformed Kay LeClaire and their work to offer a formal statement on their work with this individual and commit to paying reparations to the Tribes.

‘We call on you to match the amount of money you paid Kay LeClaire for their false knowledge and misrepresentation of our people in a donation to an Indigenous organization harmed by Kay LeClaire,’ the company said.

‘Our collective is committed to a process of rematriation and redistributing the art and c7ultural items that Kay LeClaire is in possession of, should they do the right thing and relinquish them. We are working with the Indigenous community in Teejop to accomplish this process and appreciate your patience.

‘We are also committed to maintaining our shop as an Indigenous and queer space for the community in and around Teejop,’ it continued. ‘Our hearts, space and resources are open to you.’

He and Jerry Chris Van Dyke, 67, sold totems like the one pictured here, claiming to be Native American artists

 At the same time, Griige called on LeClaie to ‘offer a formal apology for any fraud, lies and theft of culture, art and opportunities.

‘We call on them to acknowledge the harm they have committed, gracefully accept the consequences and sincerely apologize to those they have harmed, including the Tribes they claimed, the communities and organizations they worked with and anyone who called them a friend.’

‘It is unfortunate, disturbing an da clear symptom of ongoing colonialism that Indigenous people continually have to face the consequences for trusting someone who is pretending to be our kin. 

‘What has been unveiled over the past few months has taken a huge emotional toll of all of us and we ask for your patience as we take the time to heal ourselves.

‘Please do not ask us for permission regarding actions to be taken in the wake of this tragedy,’ the company continued. ‘This requires a great deal of labor on the part of people already harmed by Kay LeClaire and puts us in a position where we are then in charge of the fallout for their actions.

‘Follow your best judgment when deciding how to respond to this an dhow to personally make things right.’

 Griige concluded: ‘We deeply appreciate the community support we have so far received and ask that you continue to support us as we reorganize and heal.

‘Kay LeClaire is still a part of the broader Madison community and is a human being deserving of care, despite their egregious actions.

‘While this is a call to action and attention, we do not condone harassment or violence of any kind directed towards Kay LeClaire.

‘We will not tolerate discussion of Indigenous identity issues by non Indigenous communities on our page, nor will we tolerate speculation or diagnoses of Kay LeClaire’s mental or physical health status,’ the executives said.

‘We ask you to encourage them to seek help and take accountability for their actions.’ 

Stealing Native American artwork and passing it off as your own is a violation of the federal 1990 Indian Arts and Crafts Act.

In 2021, Lewis Anthony Rath, 52, and Jerry Chris Van Dyke, also known as Jerry Witter of Seattle, 67, were charged with violating the act after they sold masks, totems and pendants claiming to be Native Americans.

Rath was charged with four counts of misrepresentation of Indian produced goods, which is punishable by five years in prison, while Van Dyke faces two counts.

In a statement at the time, Edward Grace, the assistant director of US Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement said: ‘By flooding the market with counterfeit Native American art and craftwork, these crimes cheat the consumer, undermine the economic livelihood of Native American artists and impair Indian culture.’ 

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