IQALUIT, NORTHWEST TERRITORIES -- Hidden away for 85 years, the bizarre story of Minik, "the New York Eskimo boy," who was said to have discovered his own father's skeleton in a glass display case in the American Museum of Natural History, has come back to haunt the museum.

Lured to New York by false promises, exhibited to the public as a curiosity and forced to live in the museum's basement, Minik died in 1918. But his story has raised unpleasant questions about the insensitivity of the scientific community of an era long past, when eminent anthropologists competed fiercely to bring live specimens of aboriginals to their laboratories.

The story is one of an alleged coverup at the turn of the century by museum authorities, including the world-renowned anthropologist Franz Boas; of deceit and betrayal by North Pole explorer Robert Peary -- and of a relentless campaign by a businessman from the Canadian Arctic to return some measure of dignity to Minik by having his father's remains moved next to those of his son in a small cemetery in New Hampshire.

Details of the sordid treatment of Minik during his stay in New York were uncovered by Kenn Harper, an Iqaluit businessman who first heard the tale from his mother-in-law. She met Minik when he came home to his hamlet in Greenland in 1909.

Harper spent eight years digging into Minik's life, and he compiled his findings in a privately published book, "Give Me My Father's Bones."

In an interview in this Baffin Island community, Harper demanded that the American Museum of Natural History write the final chapter of the story by uniting the remains of father and son. "It's scandalous that they {the father's bones} languish in a box in the museum. But then, the museum's whole dealings in this case from the beginning have been marked by insensitivity," Harper said.

Herbert Kurz, the museum's director of public affairs, said the institution has received no formal request for the skeleton of Qisuk, the father. He said it is stored in a "research collection" with the bones of three other Eskimos who were brought to New York and who later died of tuberculosis.

Kurz said that U.S. law provides for the repatriation of the skeletal remains of Native Americans held by museums and other institutions, but that he doubts whether the law covers the remains of aboriginals from Greenland, Canada or other countries. Museum curators and native leaders in Canada are proposing new guidelines for the repatriation of the bones of hundreds of Eskimos and Indians from museums in Europe and the United States.

Asked about the possibility of interring Qisuk's remains with those of his son, Kurz replied, "Any request of that kind would be considered, if it was a legitimate, formal request from a family group, a government or whatever."

Kurz said he could not comment on the details of Minik's experiences with the museum "because it was a long time ago, and I wasn't around."

For thousands of years, the bones of Eskimos, or Inuit, as they are often called now, lay undisturbed under rock cairns in the Arctic tundra until an explosion of scientific expeditions to the region in the late 1800s and early 1900s by such respected anthropologists as Boas and polar explorers like Peary.

During the famous fifth Thule Expedition of the 1920s, Danish anthropologists opened 32 graves and took the skeletons of some of the Arctic's oldest inhabitants to Europe for scientific study. The bones were taken to Denmark's Panum Institute and used to study human evolution and diseases of the Thule people, the ancestors of modern Arctic Inuit.

But it was earlier, during an 1897 expedition to northern Greenland by Peary, when the bizarre travails of Minik, "the New York Eskimo boy," began.

Peary was on his fourth expedition to northern Greenland, 50 miles east of Canada's Ellesmere Island, when he talked six Eskimos into returning with him to New York aboard his ship, Harper said. Among them were Minik, age 6, and his father, Qisuk. Harper noted that it was fairly common at the time for anthropologists to take North American natives to Europe and elsewhere for scientific study.

"Boas had asked for one specimen, and he was shocked when Peary gave him six. But it's easier and cheaper to do the fieldwork if you can get the fieldwork to come to you," Harper said.

Why the Eskimos agreed to make the trip is unclear, although Minik later said that Peary had promised them "nice warm homes in the sunshine land, and guns and knives and needles and many other things."

Denise Bekkema, curator of the Inuit museum here, said that many Eskimos were similarly removed from the Arctic as part of a "knowledge-at-all-costs mentality" of anthropologists of the era.

This was at a time when the science of anthropology was in its infancy, and the skulls of people of different races were compared and judgments pronounced on which groups were more advanced.

After being exhibited as curiosities to the New York public, Minik, his father and the four other Eskimos were turned over to the American Museum of Natural History as living anthropological specimens, Harper said.

Initially housed in the museum's basement, the Eskimos suffered from the heat of the late summer of their first year in a strange and terrifying land, Harper said. Qisuk, according to newspaper accounts of the day, was garbed in an overcoat several sizes too large and a pair of golf stockings with a loud pattern. Minik, who was similarly clothed, was said to have spent much of his time playing in the museum's Arctic exhibit, where he apparently felt at home among the stuffed Eskimo dogs and other relics of his early life.

Harper said the Eskimos, who soon became ill in their unfamiliar environment, were constantly examined by scientists who measured, probed and carefully watched them to record their physical characteristics. Photographs in the museum's archives show Qisuk and Minik standing naked on pedestals like the scientific specimens that they were, preserved in frontal nudity for anthropological posterity.

Minik writes of one incident in his diary: "One day a doctor accidentally or carelessly burned my arm with an iron. My father saw the sore ... he got out of bed, enraged, as weak and sick as he was, and I am sure he would have killed the doctor ... I lied to my father; I told him that I had burned my arm on a gaslight."

The next morning, his father died of the tuberculosis that would kill three of the others. Only Minik and another young man survived. Already an orphan, Minik was left alone when his compatriot was returned to Greenland the following year.

With the museum under attack from New York newspapers for mistreating the Eskimos, Peary immediately washed his hands of the whole affair, not even mentioning them in two volumes describing his Greenland expeditions. Harper said that Peary, who made a fortune from his many Arctic expeditions, refused to contribute to Minik's upkeep.

Minik was adopted by William Wallace, the museum's building superintendent, who owned a farm in Cobleskill, N.Y., where the boy learned English, adapted fairly well to his new surroundings and completely forgot his native language and traditions.

Later, when Wallace became involved in a scandal over some missing museum funds and was fired in 1901, he and Minik lived in a crowded New York apartment that Wallace described as "like a prison to the wild-spirited Eskimo."

In 1907, the New York World newspaper published a sensational story about "Minik, the Esquimau boy who is growing up in New York," and described the youth's macabre discovery that his own father's skeleton was in the American Museum of Natural History.

Wallace later wrote that the terrible secret was revealed to Minik by schoolmates who had read about the museum's collection of Eskimo skeletons in the newspaper.

Minik, in a version that seemed to more closely reflect the sensational newspaper accounts of the day, later was quoted as saying, "Unexpectedly one day I came face to face with it. I felt as though I must die then and there. I threw myself at the bottom of the glass case and prayed and wept. I went straight to the director and implored him to let me bury my father. He would not. I swore that I would never rest until I had given my father burial."

Many of the anecdotes of Minik's strange life in New York were gleaned by Harper from the era's newspapers, which wrote prolifically -- if not always accurately -- about his experiences as he became a nationwide celebrity, and from voluminous correspondence in the museum's archives and elsewhere.

Minik was to tell one newspaper interviewer in 1909, "I would shoot Mr. Peary and the museum director, only I want them to see how much more just a savage Eskimo is than their enlightened white selves."

Harper said he uncovered several different versions of the boy's grim discovery of his father's bones, but that all of the accounts confirmed that Minik had indeed learned that Qisuk's skeleton was on display in the museum and that he was forever traumatized by the experience.Moreover, Harper said, Wallace eventually admitted his own role in staging a fake funeral on the museum grounds, complete with a shrouded log approximately the length of a human corpse, which was intended to convince Minik that his father had been buried in traditional Eskimo fashion instead of being displayed in the glass case.

Boas, in 1909, confirmed that the sham burial had taken place, saying that its purpose was "to appease the boy, and keep him from discovering that his father's body had been chopped up and the bones placed in the collection of the institution."

Later, Harper said, Wallace was to confess to even darker activities on behalf of the museum: The superintendent allegedly admitted that at his Cobleskill farm he had maintained, on behalf of the museum, a "bone-bleaching plant" at which the corpses of four Eskimos, along with numerous animals, were "stripped of their flesh and forwarded to the {museum's} osteological department."

Harper said Wallace justified his activities, which he said haunted his dreams, by declaring, "We were only acting under instructions from the museum authorities. It had all been arranged that the bones should be prepared for exhibition and they had to be cleaned."

In 1909, Minik was allowed to return Greenland aboard a ship carrying supplies to another Peary expedition. But he returned to a land that he no longer remembered and to people whose language he no longer understood, Harper said.

Incredibly, Minik relearned his native language and traditions, became an accomplished hunter of seals, walruses and polar bears and eventually became an interpreter and guide for another arctic expedition.

However, Minik's longing for America was strong, and eventually he boarded a a U.S.-bound ship, settling in 1917 in New Hampshire as an itinerant sawmill worker. In the fall of 1918 he was stricken in an epidemic of Spanish flu, died and was buried in a little cemetery just outside Pittsburg, N.H.

Only recently has the issue been given renewed attention. A draft report prepared by the Canadian Museums Association and the Assembly of First Nations, which represents the country's 700,000 aboriginals, recommends that the remains of natives currently in museums and research institutions in Canada be returned at the request of their descendants or clans and be reinterred according to traditional practices.

The report, which is expected to be approved by Canadian museums later this year, also urges a special campaign to repatriate the remains of hundreds of aboriginals and uncounted native artifacts held in museums outside the country, with the help of UNESCO, the International Council of Museums and other professional groups.

Charles Arnold, director of the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Museum in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, said the new Canadian Museum Association guidelines would make it easier to repatriate skeletal remains in such cases as Minik's father, adding that "anything that brings the issue forward helps to advance the cause of being sensitive to natives."

Most museums no longer go out and collect skeletal remains of aboriginals, but there still is a need to "redress these past injustices," Arnold said. He added, "It will be a challenge to find ways to make some of these recommendations work."