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University Relations

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Jan. 13, 2006
Contact: Kevin Boatright, KU Center for Research, (785) 864-7240.

Montana anthropologist to oversee KU Native American artifact repatriation

LAWRENCE -- The University of Kansas has named Thomas Foor, a professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Montana, to a new, temporary position as coordinator of compliance with the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), effective Jan. 15.

In that position, Foor will develop a strategic plan for the Anthropological Research and Cultural Collections (ARCC) at KU and will work with KU staff and representatives of Native American tribes to complete repatriation as specified under NAGPRA.

“Tom has considerable experience evaluating collections of Native American objects,” said Mary Lee Hummert, associate vice provost for research. “He has also earned the trust and respect of the many tribes he’s worked with in and around Montana on a variety of projects.” Foor will report to Hummert and his initial assignment is expected to last six months.

Foor retired at Montana last year after 21 years on the faculty, nine of them as chair of the Department of Anthropology. He previously served for five years as Montana state archaeologist. His academic background includes a bachelor’s in geography and a master’s in anthropology from Montana, as well as a doctoral degree in anthropology from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

“My task is to inventory the ARCC collections and present the information to representatives of the native nations,” said Foor. “Then we will have a conversation about the items and try to assess which ones are special to a particular culture. Eventually, the inventory is published in the Federal Register and we can receive, evaluate and process formal requests for repatriation.”

Under the 1990 law, such requests usually come from a tribal council or an authorized tribal committee. “Lineal descendents of someone who owned an artifact can also make a claim,” says Foor. Among the items covered by NAGPRA are sacred objects, cultural patrimony, burial goods and human remains.

Foor is currently working with the National Park Service on a museum inventory and a project to document the cultural significance and traditional use of Chief Mountain, located on the boundary of Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Foor has done archeological fieldwork on a contract basis since 1984 for other federal, state and private agencies.

NAGPRA was designed to help native nations tell their story about items long held by institutions and the federal government, said Foor. “The law is fascinating for that reason,” he said. “There has generally been a high level of distrust between tribes and anthropologists, but under NAGPRA we can help Native Americans get their voice and make their opinions known about these objects.”

Foor says one of his proudest achievements at Montana was the creation of a “cultural heritage” degree option that prepares graduate students in anthropology for positions as tribal preservation officers.

“One of the first graduates of that program was my teaching assistant last fall,” he said. “She’s back on campus to earn her Ph.D. and is also tribal preservation officer for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes on the Flathead Reservation, where she supervises 27 employees in one of the most successful and technologically advanced programs in the country.”

Foor said “she is a superb example of the kind of student and tribal member I had in mind when that program was started.”

Foor will work in Spooner Hall, where ARCC is located, and will work closely with Mary Adair, interim director, members of the ARCC Advisory Committee and others with an interest in the collections.


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