KU hires repatriation program manager to coordinate return of Indigenous remains and artifacts

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The University of Kansas has hired Thomas Torma, “an administrator well-versed in the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA),” as repatriation program manager.

Torma will begin in his position March 6, according to a Friday news release from KU.

“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,” according to the release.

Torma said in the release that KU “clearly understands the importance of developing meaningful relationships with tribes and tribal communities.”

“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,” he said.

The university announced in September that it is in possession of the remains of 202 Native American ancestors, one South American ancestor and one Aboriginal ancestor. A staff member had discovered the remains in museum collections. In the time since, KU has created a committee to administer the repatriation of Indigenous remains in its possession and is working to reconcile with KU’s Indigenous communities, according to a December update from the university.

“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,” Friday’s release summarized.

Torma will continue the work first undertaken by Melissa Peterson (Diné), director of tribal relations, according to the release.

“I am pleased with the care that Tom will bring to this work at KU,” Peterson said in the release. “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,” according to the release. “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,” the release continued. “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.”

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Note: This post was updated to add a photo of Torma.

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KU hires repatriation program manager to coordinate return of Indigenous remains and artifacts

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KU has hired Thomas Torma as repatriation program manager. Torma will be responsible for returning ancestors’ remains and funerary artifacts to tribes and tribal communities.


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