Monona Mayoral candidate Kristie Goforth took to Facebook last weekend to prove her Native American heritage after a supporter of incumbent Mary O’Connor implied in a Facebook comment that she is actually Caucasian.
As we reported earlier this week, Goforth would be the first Native American mayor in Wisconsin history, were she to win. She is a member of the Sault Saint Marie Band of Chippewa.
On March 16, former alder and current Public Works Committee citizen member Chad Speight posted his endorsement of O’Connor and three aldermanic incumbents in the April 6 election.
In response to a comment on that post, fellow Public Works Committee citizen member Tim Turino, a local chiropractor, wrote, “MyLife, which I believe is information you put in yourself — lists her as a Caucasian, and a registered Republican. Further she is Christian. Of course, most of those things can change.”
MiLife is a data aggregation site which gathers information from around the internet, without verification. It was sued by the federal government last year for posting misleading information in an effort to get people to pay for background reports.
Madison365 could not find a MyLife profile for any Kristie Goforth in Monona, and a profile for Kristie Schilling — Goforth’s former name — did not list her race.
Speight “Liked” the comment.
Goforth got a few texts from friends about the post, she said in an interview Thursday. On her campaign Facebook page on Saturday, Goforth posted a lengthy defense of her heritage, posting photos of her tribal membership cards and explaining some of the struggles she faced growing up Native in northern Michigan.
“Should I have to prove my heritage … in 2021? Should I have to justify my struggles and achievements? No I should not, but I will,” she wrote. “As a child, I was teased for receiving medical and dental services from my Tribal clinic and called racial slurs. I had to wear a sports jersey with DeTour Red Raiders on it which also led to me being ashamed of my race. I will no longer allow people to shame me for my heritage. I have never checked the “white” box on forms seeking demographic information.”
In an interview with Madison365 she said she’s never voted for a Republican and reiterated that she never considered herself white, but grew up with a lot of shame about her race, coming to embrace it with pride in her 30s. That shame made the questioning of her heritage difficult to take, she said.
“To feel like you have to defend who you are as a human being … it’s almost like he’s erasing all of my struggles or the challenges I had growing up as the person I was,” she said.
She said she was “shocked” that Speight, a vocal advocate of progressive causes who advertised his business, Chad’s Design Build, on progressive talk radio, didn’t denounce Turino’s comment.
“Just because you advertise on progressive radio doesn’t mean you have innocence by association,” she said. “’I’m on progressive radio, so I can’t be racist.’ It doesn’t work that way.”
Reached by phone Thursday and asked whether he believes Goforth to be Native American, Turino said, “I have no reason to think otherwise.”
He said he found it “odd” that the MyLife website lited Goforth as Caucasian.
“I had done a quick Google search and I saw that and went, ‘okay, why would that be that way?’ So I guess I threw it out there,” he said. “I’m not sure that it’s accurate.”
Turino later deleted the comment.
For his part, in an email to Madison365, Speight said he “had no idea” Goforth was Native American until he saw her post on Saturday.
Goforth said that’s hard to believe.
Her Native heritage “was mentioned in the debate(s for) both mayor and council (on March 6),” she said. “I’m the first non-white elected official in the history of Monona and there’s been a lot of talk about that. There’s also been several articles in the newspaper because of our mounds and my committee is looking at getting those mounds on the national registry. I think only if you’re living under a rock here in Monona you wouldn’t know that.”
On Sunday, Speight returned to the original thread and responded to Turino’s comment, writing, “I have no reason to doubt that KG is Native American. I have never commented on her ethnicity until now, and yet, she is accusing me and Peter McKeever (another former alder) of being racists?”
In an email to Madison365, Speight referred to “these Facebook comments which are being falsely represented by Kristie Goforth,” but did not answer a question asking what was false.
“I regret liking the comment, and frankly, I should have pushed back,” Speight wrote, even though he said he didn’t know Goforth was Native American. “I should have looked into Tim’s comments and then I would have known more. I didn’t know what he was referring to. And more importantly, I don’t like the politics of personal destruction. I think public figures should be judged by what they say, how they treat people, and what they vote for or against. That’s all I am saying. It takes half a second to hit a like button on comments, and I am guilty of doing that without carefully considering it sometimes. As I said, I didn’t realize KG was Native American at that moment, but the way Tim made the remarks should have prompted me to dig deeper. I did not. I meant no disrespect to KG and her ancestry.”
He also said he was personally hurt by Goforth’s reaction.
“I am offended and hurt, personally, to be accused of condoning racially dismissive comments, because that misrepresents who I am, and what I fight for,” he said.
“The government basically tried to eradicate my entire race, and then that kind of microaggression coming at me … it directly hits home and it really hurts. That really hurts,” Goforth said. Still, she wants to run on unity, saying one of her first acts as mayor, if she wins, will be to host a healing ceremony.
“What I’ve been my entire life is I’ve been a peacekeeper. And although these folks have woke up my warrior spirit, I am a peacekeeper and I’m a unifier,” she said.