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Wicazo Sa Review 17.2 (2002) 205-210



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Essay Review

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

The Riddle of the Bones:
Politics, Science, Race, and the Story of Kennewick Man

Skulls Wars:
Kennewick Man, Archaeology, and the Battle for Native American Identity

The Settlement of the Americas:
A New Prehistory


Give Me My Father's Body: The Life of Minik, the New York Eskimoby Kenn Harper. Steerforth Press, 2000

The Riddle of the Bones: Politics, Science, Race, and the Story of Kennewick Manby Roger Downey. Springer-Verlag, 2000

Skulls Wars: Kennewick Man, Archaeology, and the Battle for Native American Identityby David Hurst Thomas. Basic Books, 2000

The Settlement of the Americas: A New Prehistoryby Thomas D. Dillehay. Basic Books, 2000

In September 1897, Robert Peary's ship Hope sailed into New York Harbor. Its cargo included one hundred tons of meteorites and six Greenlander Inuits. Both sets of specimens took up residence at the American Museum of Natural History, with the humans under the supervision of ur-anthropologist Franz Boas and his assistant, Alfred Kroeber. Four of the six natives soon died from complications of tuberculosis. Boas, using ethnographic information collected by Kroeber, staged a funeral for one of them, Qisuk, for the benefit of the dead man's son, Minik. The ceremony, however, was a sham. Qisuk's bones had been macerated and bleached and added to the museum's collection. When Minik discovered the deception years later, he began a long and futile campaign to secure his father's remains.

Kenn Harper tells this piteous story in Give Me My Father's Body, originally published in 1986 and now appearing in a newly updated edition. He narrates the life of Minik, taken in by William Wallace, the building superintendent at the museum, and raised as an orphan in New York. When he returned to Greenland, though briefly a local celebrity, [End Page 205] Minik found he did not fit in. In 1916, he returned to the United States, where he worked at a variety of odd jobs until he died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. He never was able to obtain the return of his father's body. And it was not until 1997 that the four dead Inuits were interred in Greenland. Even in death, however, Minik was not to be reunited with his parent. He is buried on a hill in New Hampshire, near where he died.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), by which Congress required museums and other institutions receiving federal funds to return human remains and certain objects of cultural and historical significance to native nations. NAGPRA would not have helped Minik inhis quest. It covers only American Natives and does not extend to"other Others," like the Greenlanders. It does, however, represent a broad national policy in favor of repatriation.

Drafted in cooperation with archaeologists, the act has not been free from controversy, but, at least in the area of human remains, it has worked reasonably well, leading to the return of thousands of sets of bones. 1 The legislation's anniversary, and one particular dispute, have led to a flurry of volumes, including the republication of Harper's poignant text in the last year. Along with recent archaeological discoveries, they have also rekindled interest in the populating of the Americas and the origins of the indigenous peoples of this hemisphere. These events have even reopened the long-dead kulturkreis debate. An Atlantic Monthly cover story in January 2000 warned, "The Diffusionists Have Landed." 2 All of the recent works show the received story of the peopling of North and South America by migration over the Bering Strait and then on down eroding under the force of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-7901
Print ISSN
0749-6427
Pages
pp. 205-210
Launched on MUSE
2002-08-01
Open Access
No
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