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By Phil Hall | January 17, 2008

The focus of this documentary is Hivshu, a Greenland Inuit who is the descendant of an adulterous relation between an Inuit woman and Robert E. Peary, the American polar explorer. Taking the name of Robert E. Peary II, he travels through Greenland and across the American Northeast to piece together the story of six Inuit who were taken to New York by Peary in the late 19th century. All of the Greenlanders died from pneumonia except for a boy named Minik, who was adopted by the anthropologist William Wallace.

However, what became of the bodies of the dead Inuit remains unclear – a controversy erupted when Wallace leaked to the press that the American Museum of Natural History did not bury the bodies, as they claimed, but vivisected them for medical studies. Filmmaker Staffan Julen is never able to determine the fate of the bodies, although he locates Minik’s grave in New Hampshire.

Yet the film’s genuine enigma is Hivshu – the viewer never learns just what he does for a living or who is financing his travels. As he strolls about New York wearing a flashy cowboy outfit, designer eyeglasses and a Rolex wristwatch, pausing to speak in flawless English to the locals, it is obvious he is not your average icecap walrus hunter. The scene where Hivshu visits the Bronx in search of the long-gone Wallace mansion will certainly strike a good laugh with any native New Yorkers.

Even if Hivshu remains a mystery, the story he presents about his doomed countrymen is a genuine tragedy of racism and deliberate cruelty in the name of science. This well-made and often poignant documentary is highly recommended.

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