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Give Me My Father’s Body: The Life of Minik, the New York Eskimo

This is, as you might expect, a totally depressing book about how terrible people in positions of power were (and likely still are in many respects) when attempting to interact with “native” folks of any stripe. This particular story concerns Peary’s expeditions to northern Greenland where he frequently stopped on his quest for the North Pole. On one occasion he brought some of the “Polar Eskimos” as they were then called, back to NYC with him. Several died and one, Minik, was a young boy and was one of the survivors. The NY Museum of Natural History treated him and his fellow Greenlanders shamefully, keeping Minik’s father’s body in their archives (even going so far as to stage a fake funeral for him to assuage the boy) along with other personal possessions belonging to him. This situation was not rectified until the last few decades. Appalling.

Harper has done a great deal of research tracking down what became of Minik and others whose lives Peary touched in the latter part of the 20th century and created a narrative that is Minik-centered, not the terrible explorer-centered tales of false bravado and accomplishments at the expense of other people. Very interesting read.