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Jeff Thomas

Curator's Commentary

Jeff Thomas identifies as an urban Iroquois, an identity that reflects his experience as an Aboriginal man born in Buffalo, New York, to parents from the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ontario. An artist, researcher, independent curator, cultural analyst and public speaker, he first achieved renown in the early 1980s as a photographer who scoured monuments, office facades and government buildings for depictions of Aboriginal people, particularly in his current home town of Ottawa, the seat of the federal government in Canada. Indeed, his work has always sought to express his distinct experience as both urban and Aboriginal and to redress the dominant culture’s partial representation and misrepresentation of Aboriginal peoples evident in contemporary media and historical archives. In recent years, his series Indians on Tour (2000, ongoing) presents toy Indian figures displayed in a variety of locations, both ordinary and iconic, in Ontario and beyond. In a clever reversal of early touring shows in which Aboriginal peoples performed in historical re-enactments, these toy Indians now visit popular Western tourist destinations. In this work, Thomas provides a playful yet pointed alternative to long-standing and entrenched stereotypes of Aboriginal peoples.


Jeff Thomas is an urban Iroquois, born in the city of Buffalo, New York, in 1956. His parents and grandparents were born at the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ontario, and left the reserve to find work in the city. You won’t find a definition for the “urban Iroquois” in any dictionary or anthropological publication – it is this absence that informs his work as a photo-based artist, researcher, independent curator, cultural analyst and public speaker. Thomas’ study of Indian-ness seeks to create an image bank of his urban Iroquois experience, as well as to re-contextualize historical images of First Nations people for a contemporary audience. Ultimately, he wants to dismantle long-entrenched stereotypes and inappropriate caricatures of First Nations people.