Harper, Kenn 1945-
Harper, Kenn 1945-
PERSONAL: Born 1945, in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada. Ethnicity: “Canadian.” Religion: Society of Friends (Quakers). Hobbies and other interests: Collecting antiquarian books on Arctic exploration and on Eskimo language.
ADDRESSES: Home and office—Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Teacher. Later worked as businessperson. past member, Nunavut Historical Advisory Board.
MEMBER: Arctic Institute of North America (life member), Royal Geographical Society (fellow).
Some Aspects of the Grammar of the Eskimo Dialects of Cumberland Peninsula and North Baffin Island, National Museums of Canada (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), 1974.
Suffixes of the Eskimo Dialects of Cumberland Peninsula and North Baffin Island, National Museums of Canada (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), 1979.
Christmas in the Big Igloo: True Tales from the Canadian Arctic, illustrated by John Allerston, Outcrop (Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada), 1983.
Give Me My Father’s Body: The Life of Minik, the New York Eskimo, Blacklead Books (Frobisher Bay, Northwest Territories, Canada), 1986, Steerforth Press (South Royalton, VT), 2000, abridged version for young readers, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2001.
SIDELIGHTS: Kenn Harper has written two books about Eskimo language for the National Museums of Canada, as well as a book of Christmas tales. Give Me My Father’s Body: The Life of Minik, the New York Eskimo is a biography of Minik (1890-1918), a Greenland Eskimo who was brought to New York, along with his father, Qisuk, and four other people, by explorer Robert Peary in 1897. Rose M. Cichy wrote in Library Journal that Harper tells the story “in unembellished prose with heartbreaking excerpts from Minik’s own writings.” A Publishers Weekly reviewer said Harper “tells Minik’s story straightforwardly and with sympathy… As a tale of scientific arrogance… the book is chilling.”
The group was transported for the purpose of being studied by the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. When four died of pneumonia, their bodies were used for scientific research and exhibited in the museum. The burial of Minik’s father took place at night in order not to attract attention. Among those in attendance were William Wallace, superintendent of the museum, donor Morris Jessup, and Alfred Kroeber, anthropologist and assistant to Franz Boas, the most famous anthropologist in the United States. But the men were burying a log wrapped in fur, not Qisuk, whose body was being dissected in a laboratory, the skin stripped with a machine normally used for animal specimens.
Minik, now orphaned, was cared for by Wallace, and at seventeen he discovered that his father had not been buried but that his skeleton was displayed in a glass case. He was refused when he asked for his father’s remains so that he could be properly buried. Minik went home to Greenland for seven years, then returned to the United States in 1916, became a citizen in 1917, and died of Spanish flu in New Hampshire the following year. As a result of the publication of Harper’s book, the museum released Qisuk’s remains in 1993.
“Harper resists the temptation to preach about the uprooting of people,” commented Charles Haines in Canadian Geographic. “He justifiably inveighs against anyone—scientist, churchman, or layman—who from the loftiness of New York looks down on the simplicity of life in Uummannaq or Melville Bay. He leaves it to his readers to come to conclusions about what constitutes ‘civilization.’” Roger Gathman wrote in American Scholar that “employing old newspaper clippings, memoirs, and letters, [Harper’s] story is a fascinating microhistorical tidbit…. It is a tale that, in miniature, speaks to the history of encounters between the West and the ‘people without history’—the aboriginal inhabitants of every explorer’s terra incognita.”
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Scholar, summer, 2000, Roger Gathman, review of Give Me My Father’s Body: The Life of Minik, the New York Eskimo, p. 153.
Beaver, October, 1988, Robert V. Oleson, review of Give Me My Father’s Body, p. 51.
Canadian Geographic, June-July, 1987, Charles Haines, review of Give Me My Father’s Body, p. 79.
Library Journal, March 1, 2000, Rose M. Cichy, review of Give Me My Father’s Body, p. 108.
Publishers Weekly, February 28, 2000, review of Give Me My Father’s Body, p. 73.