Communications


KU Hires Former Tribal Historic Preservation Offices Thomas Torma as Repatriation Program Manager

February 10, 2023

Thomas Torma, an administrator well-versed in the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), is joining the University of Kansas as its repatriation program manager March 6.

In the role, Torma will coordinate NAGPRA compliance, consultations, repatriations and other activities by managing inventory and curation of Native American and Indigenous artifacts and remains across the university. 

"KU clearly understands the importance of developing meaningful relationships with tribes and tribal communities,” Torma said. “The opportunity to be part of a NAGPRA program that operates in that spirit is a once-in-a-lifetime chance that I am looking forward to engaging with.”

Hiring a repatriation program manager is among the steps the university announced in December 2022 with its initiatives to complete necessary steps to repatriate Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony that are in the institution’s possession, as mandated by federal law. 

Torma will continue the work first undertaken by Melissa Peterson, director of tribal relations, before a repatriation program manager was in place.

“I am pleased with the care that Tom will bring to this work at KU,” Peterson said. “It is very important for me to ensure that our repatriation program manager had the Indigenous knowledge in addition to the NAGPRA knowledge in repatriation. He possesses a very unique skill set, and I am ready for him to lead the work we started.”

Torma comes to KU from the University of California, Berkeley, where he was that institution’s NAGPRA liaison since 2020. During his time there, he oversaw the publication of 15 NAGPRA Federal Register notices and the repatriation of over 930 ancestors.  Also among his professional experiences is having served as the cultural director and tribal historic preservation officer for the Wiyot Tribe in Loleta, California.

As a scholar and academic, Torma has taught and researched with institutions across the United States and United Kingdom. Torma earned a bachelor of science in English and philosophy from State University of New York-Brockport, followed by a master of science and doctorate in Celtic studies from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

KU has formed a Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) committee to complete necessary steps of repatriation of Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony that are in the institution’s possession, as mandated by federal law. Additionally, the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging is leading efforts to support those impacted by the incomplete process started at the university decades ago, focusing, in particular, on our Native American and Indigenous students, faculty and staff.


Past Communications

Dear Students, Staff and Faculty,

KU has formed a Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) committee to complete necessary steps of repatriation of Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony that are in the institution’s possession, as mandated by federal law. Additionally, the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging is leading efforts to support those impacted by the incomplete process started at the university decades ago, focusing, in particular, on our Native American and Indigenous students, faculty and staff.

Over the past months, progress has been made in priority areas under both the NAGPRA repatriation initiatives and initiatives to support community care, as outlined below.

NAGPRA Repatriation Initiatives

KU NAGPRA Committee Formed

KU has established a committee including representatives from the Native American and Indigenous communities, departmental KU support staff, the Spencer Museum of Art, and the Biodiversity Institute & Natural History Museum. The committee’s charge is to advise, guide and complete NAGPRA protocols while prioritizing tribal consultation.

Auditing KU Lawrence campus collections to present updated and accurate information

In addition to auditing their existing collections, the Biodiversity Institute & Natural History Museum and the Spencer Museum of Art have partnered with the Office of Audit, Risk & Compliance to expand the auditing process across the Lawrence campus.

If you have information that may be helpful to the audit, please email repatriation@ku.edu or use the University Hotline for anonymous reporting. Following appropriate protocols, the audit begins within the institution and will ultimately be completed through tribal consultation.

Developing and implementing repatriation policies and procedures

The Office of Audit, Risk & Compliance has begun working on a university-wide policy surrounding repatriation, which will follow the existing policy development process.

Hiring a Repatriation Program Manager

KU posted an employment notice for a full-time Repatriation Program Manager, and interviews have begun.  The Repatriation Program Manager will lead the university’s repatriation efforts and the NAGPRA Committee. The individual will work closely with KU’s Director of Tribal Relations in effectively consulting with Native Nations. The campus community will have the opportunity to engage with the finalist candidates during on-campus interviews in January.

Consulting with Native Nations in accordance with NAGPRA

NAGPRA regulations require KU to initiate consultation with Native Nations, and initial contact letters have been sent to Native Nations. KU’s Director of Tribal Relations and the future Repatriation Program Manager will provide sustained consultation and communication with Native Nations and their tribal historic preservation officers throughout the repatriation process.

Please note that information discoveries and content of the tribal consultation process is official communication between KU and sovereign nations, which requires confidentiality. The needs of the Native Nations will lead our efforts of repatriation and future communications. In accordance with NAGPRA law, KU will post notices to the Federal Register.

Funding to support repatriation efforts

KU is including NAGPRA repatriation and associated expenses in the university’s budget.

Community Support Initiatives

Vice Provost of DEIB is leading support for the campus community

Vice Provost Nicole Hodges Persley and the DEIB team will focus on concerns raised by and in support of the Native American and Indigenous communities and the Indigenous Studies Program. In addition, this team will offer support to those affected by KU’s discovery of ancestral remains and its previously incomplete NAGPRA process.

Supporting the need for community elders to cleanse specific spaces on campus

Following the disclosures of ancestral remains, Native American elders have cleansed specific buildings where ancestors are located.

The university has implemented a procedure that allows individuals to request funds for spiritual ceremonies and associated travel, along with mental health support.

Securing a space for Indigenous Studies Program out of Lippincott Hall

Space Management has identified a location in Snow Hall for the Indigenous Studies Program. Facilities, Planning, and Development are in the process of updating the space to better meet the Indigenous Studies Program’s needs.

Meetings with Native American and Indigenous Communities

During the fall semester, university administration met with the First Nations Student Association, Native Faculty Staff Council, Indigenous Studies Program and additional community members to ensure that Native American and Indigenous community members at KU have been heard and supported. Additionally, students of the Indigenous Studies Program requested meetings with the Provost’s Office and other leadership. Initial meetings have occurred, and engagement will continue.

Conclusion

We recognize that the University of Kansas has a responsibility to Native Nations, Native American and Indigenous communities, and Native Hawaiian organizations, and we are committed to being a model for repatriation that goes beyond NAGPRA requirements. Through facilitating a culture of care, building trust, and offering transparency when appropriate, KU will work toward making amends for pain caused. Future updates, when available, will be posted to the Repatriation website.

 

Respectfully,

Barbara A. Bichelmeyer, Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor

Nicole Hodges Persley, Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging

Melissa Peterson, Director of Tribal Relations

The University of Kansas has grown to be an institution with a distinguished record of research and innovation. Unfortunately, many historical research practices are interwoven with settler colonialism. As we grow, learn, and work to right the harm created by those practices, new updates and disclosures come to light.

A recent re-disclosure from the KU Natural History Museum and Spencer Museum of Art staff identified that the University is in possession of culturally unidentified individual remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony remain stored in Spooner Hall and Lippincott Hall Annex. In keeping with NAGPRA and the values of our institution, KU will continue to facilitate prompt, respectful, and culturally appropriate repatriation efforts that include NAGPRA protocols.

Currently, we are in the process of verifying the inventory across campus that was previously crafted per NAGPRA requirements and that accurately documents previous repatriation efforts. As a University, we must continue to give attention to the difficult truth that culturally unidentified individual remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony remain on our campus.  

The Provost apologizes to our Native community and recognizes the painful process of repatriation. To fully understand the implications of this situation, the University will prioritize the needs of our Native American community while continuing to support, listen, and learn.

Through a commitment to creating meaningful institutional memory, the University’s process will include the following initial steps:

  • Forming an advisory committee with representatives from the Office of Native American Initiatives, Indigenous Studies Program, Native staff and faculty, and appropriate experts.
  • Consulting with tribal nations in accordance with NAGPRA
  • Supporting the need for spiritual leaders for students, staff, and faculty
  • Auditing all KU collections to present updated and accurate information
  • Securing the Indigenous Studies Program a space out of Lippincott Hall
  • Supporting KU Native community gathering opportunities
  • Implementing institutional repatriation policies and procedures.

We are fully committed to taking culturally appropriate actions as directed by the advisory committee. The intent in sharing this announcement is to publicly apologize to Native communities and peoples, past, present, and future, and to apologize to the tribal nations across North America.

 

Barbara A. Bichelmeyer
Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor

 

Nicole Hodges Persley
Interim Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging

 

Melissa Peterson
Director of Tribal Relations

Dear Students, Staff and Faculty,

It has come to our attention that the University of Kansas is in possession of Native American ancestors in its museum collections. While some efforts have been made in the past to repatriate items, the process was never completed. The continued possession of these human remains causes great pain for many in the Native community and beyond. 

As a university, we have a responsibility to follow the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), a federal law enacted by Congress in 1990, which sets criteria for tribal nations to reclaim human remains (ancestors) and funerary objects held by museums. The University has a responsibility to tribal nations and the Native American community to continue a relationship built on dignity, respect, and enduring support.

We are fully committed to the work of creating meaningful institutional memory by properly repatriating the ancestors and funerary objects. We are working with members in our Native American community and outside consultants specializing in repatriation.

We understand that we have an ongoing responsibility to be transparent and share as much information as possible. At this point, we are still gathering information and we will be sharing more detail in the near future. Questions and concerns may be directed to the Office of the Provost, provost@ku.edu.

Respectfully,

 

Douglas A. Girod

Chancellor

 

Barbara A. Bichelmeyer

Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor

 

Nicole Hodges Persley

Interim Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging

 

Melissa Peterson

Director of Tribal Relations