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UW Madison Scholar Resigns Amid Ancestry Scandal

January 10, 2023

Kay LeClaire, a Wisconsin artist and activist accused of faking various Native American identities, resigned as the University of Wisconsin at Madison’s first ever community leader in residence at the School of Human Ecology and the Center for Design and Material Culture, WPR reported. The university said in a statement that LeClaire worked there from March through last month and received stipend payments totaling $4,877, all from private gifts and grants. Critics say LeClaire is white with no Native American ancestry.

LeClaire apologized in a separate statement to Madison365, saying, "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. 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."

UW Madison said there “is a long and painful history of erasure and cultural appropriation in the U.S., which has had an immense impact on the lives of Indigenous people,” and these “latest allegations are a disturbing reminder of how this persists today.” LeClaire did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Numerous other scholars identifying as Native American in their work at U.S. and Canadian colleges and universities have been exposed as having no such ancestry in recent years.

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Colleen Flaherty

Colleen Flaherty, Reporter, covers faculty issues for Inside Higher Ed. Prior to joining the publication in 2012, Colleen was military editor at the Killeen Daily Herald, outside Fort Hood, Texas. Before that, she covered government and land use issues for the Greenwich Time and Hersam Acorn Newspapers in her home state of Connecticut. After graduating from McGill University in Montreal in 2005 with a degree in English literature, Colleen taught English and English as a second language in public schools in the Bronx, N.Y. She earned her M.S.Ed. from City University of New York Lehman College in 2008 as part of the New York City Teaching Fellows program. 

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