"The level of contamination is very high in Greenland, but there's a lot of Western food that is worse than the poisons," Mulvad said.
Greenland's home-rule government and doctors have issued no advisories. Many Greenlanders are aware of the contamination, although they know few details. In Canada, however, there has been extensive outreach to indigenous people, including trips by Dewailly and other scientists to explain their findings in detail. But public health officials there still struggle, after 16 years, with what dietary advice to give.
Last year, Nunavik leaders initiated an experiment in three communities that gives women free Arctic char, a fish high in fatty acids but low in PCBs, to encourage them to eat less beluga blubber, the main source of contaminants there.
Most Inuit have not altered their diet in response to the contamination, according to dietary surveys in Canada. In Arctic cultures, people rely on the traditional knowledge of hunters and elders, and with no visible signs of pollution or people dying, many are skeptical that the chemicals exist. Some even suspect talk about chemicals is a ploy to strip them of their traditions.
Moreover, health officials point out that the risks of contaminants are greatly outweighed by other societal problems, including smoking, suicide, domestic violence and binge drinking, which have a severe and immediate impact on life and death in the Arctic. For example, more than half of pregnant women in Greenland smoke cigarettes.
Those who are aware of the dangers of the toxic chemicals say their meats are too nutritious and important to give up.
"People say whale and seal are polluted, but they are still healthy foods to us," said Ujuunnguaq Heinrich, a minke whale and seal hunter in Nuuk.
Anthropologists warn that efforts to alter Inuit diets can unwittingly cause irreversible cultural changes. If hunting is discouraged, people quickly would lose their traditional knowledge about the environment and their hunting skills, as well as material items such as tools and clothing, said Robert Wheelersburg, an anthropologist at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania who specializes in Arctic cultures.
Their art, their spirituality, their celebrations, their storytelling, even their language would suffer. Inuit dialects are steeped in the nuances of nature that their national languages -- English, Danish and French -- ignore.
Wheelersburg said the most important damage would be to Inuit "values and attitudes." In the Arctic's subsistence economy, people share prey among neighbors and relatives, even strangers. The best hunters are leaders in the village, and they are generous with their wealth. If the Inuit switch to a cash society, that communal generosity would disappear, Wheelersburg said.
"It's more than the food you are changing," Wheelersburg said. "It's the actual catching and hunting of it that really generates the cultural characteristics." Even skipping one generation would impair hunting skills, he said, and "once they are lost, I don't see how you can regenerate them."
Survival of the Fittest
Like everyone else in Qaanaaq, the Kristiansens remain mostly oblivious to the scientists and political leaders fretting about how many parts per billion of toxic chemicals are in their bodies.
They simply don't have the luxury to worry about dangers so imperceptible, so intangible. Instead, hunters worry about things they can hear and see: thinning ice conditions, the whereabouts of whales, where their next meat will come from. Anxiety about chemicals is left to those who live in distant lands, those who generated the compounds, those whose bodies contain far less.
About 850 miles from the North Pole, Qaanaaq, an isolated village of about 600, is the closest on Earth to the archetype of traditional polar life. Inuit there hunt seal, beluga, walrus and narwhal in the icy waters of a fjord.
Every spring, when the midnight sun returns, the Arctic's treasures, long locked in the ice, are within reach again. On a freezing-cold June afternoon, narwhal season has begun. Gedion and Mamarut head out on their sledges, their dogs racing 35 miles across the glacier, toward the Kristiansens' ancestral hunting grounds, a narrow strip of sapphire blue in the distance.
The Kristiansen brothers learned to hunt narwhal from their father, who, in turn, learned from his own relatives. It won't be long before Gedion's son, Rasmus, now 6, will be paddling a kayak beside his father.
Gedion jokes that he lassos narwhals from his kayak like the American cowboys he has seen on television. A little over a century ago, the people of Qaanaaq had little contact with the Western world. Today, they can buy salami and dental floss and Danish porn magazines in their small local market, and watch "A Nightmare on Elm Street" in their living rooms on the one TV station that beams into Qaanaaq.
The Kristiansens also know that other elements travel to their homeland, riding upon winter winds.
They learned a little about the contaminants -- the akuutissat minguttitsisut -- from listening to the radio. But they have not changed their diet, and no one has advised them to. Virtually every day, they eat seal meat and muktuk. With every bite, traces of mercury, PCBs and other chemicals amass in their bodies, to be passed on to their children.
"We can't avoid them," Gedion said in Greenlandic. "It's our food."
Since 2000 BC, the Inuit legacy has been passed on to generations of boys by generations of men. Their ancestors' memories, as vivid as a dream, mingle with their own, inseparable.
"Qaatuppunga piniartarlunga," Mamarut said.
As far back as I can remember, I hunted.