A New York Minik
December 18, 2009 9:49 PM   Subscribe

Minik Wallace (ca. 1890 – October 29, 1918) was an Inuit who was brought to the United States of America from Greenland along with five other Inuit in 1897 by explorer Robert Peary. Orphaned in America around age six when his father died from tuberculosis, Minik was raised for a time by William Wallace, who worked for the American Museum of Natural History, and who was complicit in arranging for the bones of Minik's father to be displayed there with the label "Polar Eskimo." It would be more than a decade before he would again see his native Greenland

His tragic story is told in the book Give Me My Father's Body by Kenn Harper; televised in this episode of American Experience; poignantly summarized by Nate DiMeo in the Memory Palace podcast, and sung by Piñataland in their song "If Ice Were Warm."
posted by Pater Aletheias (11 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like someone watches QI?
posted by kickingtheground at 9:55 PM on December 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

AE's intro reports Minik's reaction to New York: "seven-year-old Minik, who remembered his first impression of the city as 'a land we thought must be heaven.'"

In the words of the old song:
"I heard the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself,
this could be heaven or this could be hell"

Considering the outcome here, Admiral Peary seems like the kind of guy who's capable of faking reaching the North Pole. Good thing we don't pay more attention to appearance than substance these days, or we might decide we're not the Master Race either.
posted by Twang at 10:13 PM on December 18, 2009

Whoah... I misread the beginning of this post and thought it was a Mike Wallace obit!
posted by Jahaza at 10:14 PM on December 18, 2009

Reminds me of Nanook of the North for obvious reasons. The filmmaker was lauded and his documentary became world famous. Meanwhile Nanook starved to death.

My mother was reading Give Me My Father's Body a few years ago (a decade maybe?) and it sounded pretty damn depressing to me back then.
posted by ODiV at 10:51 PM on December 18, 2009

That's really crazy; I've been doing some analysis for work and Minik's story came up yesterday when I was looking for children's books with Native protagonists.

Smiler's Bones is the name of the children's book written about him; it's fictionalized but if you have kids who heard about him, this might be one way to introduce his story.
posted by librarylis at 10:56 PM on December 18, 2009

This reminds me of Ishi in Two Worlds (different guy, obviously).
posted by hattifattener at 11:12 PM on December 18, 2009

That's because this sort of thing happened to many native people. It's not an unusual story, actually.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:18 AM on December 19, 2009

That's because this sort of thing happened to many native people. It's not an unusual story, actually.

The thing that grips me about Minik's story is that he became a kind of man without a country. After Peary returned him to Greenland, he relearned his native language and re-inculturated to some extent, but he had been in America for more a long time during his formative years--six to sixteen or so--and being among the Inuit just didn't feel like home anymore. So he came back down. The Memory Palace podcast does a great job capturing the "at home nowhere" aspect of the story.

And really, how many kids are raised by the man who cleaned and displayed their father's bones?

Sounds like someone watches QI?

No doubt someone does--probably you. I've never heard of it.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:21 AM on December 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

ODiV, that link doesn't really back you up. "Flaherty also exaggerated the peril to Inuit hunters with his claim, often repeated, that Allakariallak had died of starvation two years after the film was completed, whereas in fact he died at home, likely of tuberculosis."
posted by Leon at 5:54 AM on December 19, 2009

Similar plot in a movie I saw years ago called Man of Two Worlds. Here is the original 1934 New York Times review. Apparently some of the comic elements "tickled the risibles of the audience" at Radio City.
posted by stargell at 7:43 AM on December 19, 2009

Leon: Ha! I didn't even read that far into the Wikipedia link. I just remember seeing the film years ago and being told that Nanook died of starvation. I guess I bought into the hype!
posted by ODiV at 9:00 AM on December 19, 2009

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