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January 8, 2024
Gained fame for Indigenous exhibits, worked at Woodland Cultural Centre
When Tom Hill told his father in the 1960s he wanted to be an artist, his father was dismissive.
“His comment was sarcastic, ‘What do you want to do? Put on a blanket and sell trinkets to tourists all your life?” the Six Nations band member told The Spectator in 2004.
“But, that was his world. There was a feeling that we were folk artists, part of the modern era, not the postmodern one. It pushed you into a niche. You could emphasize your Indian-ness, but don’t go beyond that.”
Hill did go beyond that.
He didn’t just become an artist, he became recognized as one of the first big advocates of contemporary Indigenous art and an expert on Indigenous history. The bulk of his career was spent as a curator, first as an intern at the National Gallery of Canada and as a director in the cultural affairs branch of the federal Indian Affairs Department.
The Seneca artist — who died Nov. 11 at age 80 — became curator of the Woodland Cultural Centre in 1982, and remained there until he retired in 2005.