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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Because I am a retired history teacher, I was already aware of a lot of
problems that have arisen about Robert Peary as an explorer. It's very
doubtful he actually made it to the North Pole* and he never really
gave much credit to the Black assistant (Matthew Henson) who also made
the journey. However, "Minik, the Lost Eskimo" and a bit of research I
made after watching this episode of "The American Experience" make me
think that Peary was a complete and total jerk. And, I can pretty much
guarantee you'll also feel he's a jerk when you see this show.
The show begins in the late 1800s. Peary was exploring in Greenland and befriended the local Eskimos. While the show doesn't say it, apparently he was VERY friendly with the local Eskimo women--fathering some children and then abandoning them. But what the film does discuss is how Peary lied to a small group of locals and convinced them to come to America for a year. However, after a year, all but one of them had died and the lone survivor, Minik, was not returned home. In the interim, when Minik's father died, Pearly faked a funeral--when actually, they rendered his flesh and kept his bones, brain and other remains for research! And poor Minik was stuck in America for a decade--and Peary had more important things to do than worry about this kid! And so, when he FINALLY returned, he'd forgotten his native language and was forced to re-learn what it was to be an Eskimo and never really fit in there, either.
All in all, this is a highly depressing show since it's true. It's also a great example of the horrible paternalism that existed in the 'civilized world' at that time. However, it is well made and very interesting--and well worth seeing.
*Peary's expedition to the Pole was sponsored by the National Geographic Society--who certified that he accomplished the feat. However, decades later, the Society (his biggest supporter) admitted that Peary most likely fabricated his claim that he made it to the Pole.
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