Inuksuk in the vicinity of Kuujjuarapik , Canada

An inuksuk (plural inuksuit) [1] (from the Inuktitut: ᐃᓄᒃᓱᒃ, plural ᐃᓄᒃᓱᐃᑦ; alternatively inukshuk in English[2] or inukhuk in Inuinnaqtun[3]) is a stone landmark or cairn built by humans, used by the Inuit, Inupiat, Kalaallit, Yupik, and other peoples of the Arctic region of North America. These structures are found from Alaska to Greenland. This region, above the Arctic Circle, is dominated by the tundra biome and has areas with few natural landmarks.

The inuksuk may have been used for navigation, as a point of reference, a marker for travel routes, fishing places, camps, hunting grounds, places of veneration, drift fences used in hunting [4] or as a food cache.[5] The Inupiat in northern Alaska used inuksuit to assist in the herding of caribou into contained areas for slaughter.[6] Varying in shape and size, the inuksuit have longtime roots in the Inuit culture.

Historically the most common type of inuksuk is a single stone positioned in an upright manner.[7] An inuksuk is often confused with an inunnguaq, a cairn representing a human figure. There is some debate as to whether the appearance of human- or cross-shaped cairns developed in the Inuit culture before the arrival of European missionaries and explorers.[7] The size of some innaguait suggest that the construction was often a communal effort.[4]

At Enukso Point on Baffin Island, there are over 100 inuksuit. The site was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1969.[8][9]



Inuksuit at the Foxe Peninsula (Baffin Island), Canada

The word inuksuk means "something which acts for or performs the function of a person". The word comes from the morphemes inuk ("person") and -suk ("ersatz" or "substitute"). It is pronounced inutsuk in Nunavik and the southern part of Baffin Island (see Inuit phonology for the linguistic reasons). In many of the central Nunavut dialects, it has the etymologically related name inuksugaq (plural: inuksugait).

Despite the predominant English spelling as inukshuk, both the Government of Nunavut[10] and the Government of Canada through Indian and Northern Affairs Canada[11] are promoting the Inuit-preferred spelling inuksuk.

A structure similar to an inuksuk but meant to represent a human figure, called an inunnguaq (ᐃᓄᙳᐊᖅ, "imitation of a person", plural inunnguat), has become widely familiar to non-Inuit. However, it is not the most common type of inuksuk. It is distinguished from inuksuit in general.

The Hammer of Thor, located on the Ungava Peninsula, Quebec may be an inuksuk.

Modern usage

An inuksuk on the flag of Nunavut
Inuksuk sculpture by David Ruben Piqtoukun in the lobby, Canadian Embassy, Washington, D.C.
Royal Military College of Canada Aboriginal Leadership Opportunity Year drum featuring an image of an Inukshuk

Inuksuit continue to serve as an Inuit cultural symbol. For example, an inuksuk is shown on the flag and Coat of Arms of the Canadian territory of Nunavut, and the flag of Nunatsiavut. The high school in Iqaluit is named Inuksuk High School after the landmarks.

Inuksuit — particularly, but not exclusively, of the inunnguaq variety — also are increasingly serving as a mainstream Canadian national symbol. In 1999 Inukshuk was the name for the International Arctic Art & Music Project of ARBOS in the Canadian provinces of Québec, Ontario, Nunavik, and Nunavut; and in Greenland, Austria, Denmark and Norway.[12]

On July 13, 2005 Canadian military personnel erected an inuksuk on Hans Island, along with a plaque and a Canadian flag, as part of Canada's longstanding dispute with Denmark over the small Arctic island.[13] The markers have been erected throughout the country, including a nine-metre-high inuksuk that stands in Toronto on the shores of Lake Ontario. Located in Battery Park, it commemorates the World Youth Day 2002 festival that was held in the city in July 2002.

Officials in various wilderness parks throughout Canada are routinely forced to dismantle inuksuit constructed by hikers and campers, for fear that they could misdirect park visitors from the cairns and other markers that indicate hiking trails. The practice of erecting inuksuit in parks has become so widespread that Killarney Provincial Park, on the north shore of Ontario's Georgian Bay, issued a notice in 2007 urging visitors to “stop the invasion” of inuksuit.[14]

In some areas, including Northern Ontario, individuals have built a large number of inuksuit along the Trans-Canada Highway. In 2010, a journalist from Sudbury's Northern Life counted 93 inuksuit along Highway 69 between Sudbury and Parry Sound.[15] The journalist successfully tracked down a person who had built two inuksuit along the route; he attributed his action to having had a "fill the dreams moment where I needed to stop and do it" while driving home from a family funeral.[15]

"Ilanaaq", the mascot logo of the 2010 Winter Olympics, located on Whistler Mountain

An inunnguaq is the basis of the logo of the 2010 Winter Olympics designed by Vancouver artist Elena Rivera MacGregor. Its use in this context has been controversial, both among the Inuit and the First Nations of British Columbia. Although the design has been questioned, people believe it pays tribute to the inuksuk that stands at Vancouver's English Bay.

This is a contemporary work created by artisan Alvin Kanak of Rankin Inlet, Northwest Territories (which is now in the territory of Nunavut that separated from the Northwest Territories in 1999). It was given as a gift to the city for Expo 86. The land has since been donated to the city, and it is now a protected site. Friendship and the welcoming of the world are the meanings of both the English Bay structure and the 2010 Winter Olympics emblem. Kanak's work represents the strength of his people and the modes of communication and technology before modern Canada.

The Vancouver 2010 logo and the construction of inuksuit around the world have led to increasing recognition of them.[citation needed] There are five authentic inuksuit which were donated - wholly or in part - by the government of Canada: in Brisbane, Australia; Monterrey, Mexico; Oslo, Norway; Washington D.C., United States; and Guatemala City.[16]

The Monterrey Inuksuk is unveiled by Canada's ambassador to Mexico and the governor of Nuevo León

The most recent Canadian-donated inuksuk was built in Monterrey in October 2007 by the renowned Inuvialuit artist Bill Nasogaluak. The sculpture was presented to the people of the northern state of Nuevo León as a gift from the Monterrey chapter of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Mexico and the Government of Canada, to mark the chamber’s 10th anniversary in the city. The sculpture stands over the Santa Lucía Riverwalk. Nasogaluak, of Tuktoyaktuk, personally chose the rocks for the structure from a local quarry near Monterrey. The inuksuk contains two rocks which the artist took to Mexico from Canada, one from the high Arctic and another from his home town of Toronto. Together they form the inuksuk’s heart.

The inuksuk was also used as the symbol of the Summit of the Americas,[17] because of its connotations of friendship and cooperation.

On a commercial level, a local stone quarry built an inuksuk in Schomberg, Ontario as an attraction.[18] It is the largest in the world.[19]

In popular culture

  • An inunnguaq is shown on the cover of the Rush album Test for Echo.
  • One-Eye, the main character in the movie Valhalla Rising (2009), builds an inuksuk as his dreams begin to intensify.
  • The game "Nanuk" features an inunnguaq on the playing board, as well as inuksuk cards which protect the hunters from a polar bear attack.

See also


  1. ^ Spalding, Alex; Thomas Kusugak (1998). Inuktitut: A Multi-dialectal Outline Dictionary. ISBN 1-896204-29-5. 
  2. ^ "Inukshuk". Asuilaak Living Dictionary. Retrieved 2007-02-16. 
  3. ^ Ohokak, G.; M. Kadlun, B. Harnum. Inuinnaqtun-English Dictionary. Kitikmeot Heritage Society. 
  4. ^ a b Charlotte Gray 'The Museum Called Canada: 25 Rooms of Wonder' Random House, 2004
  5. ^ Inuksuit - Signposts of the North, Athropolis
  6. ^ 28 Ethnobiology Conference Abstracts
  7. ^ a b "Inukshuk replacing the maple leaf as Canada's new symbol leads us ... somewhere"
  8. ^ "Inuksuk National Historic Site of Canada". Directory of Designations of National Historic Significance of Canada. Parks Canada. 
  9. ^ National Historic Sites Of Canada System Plan
  10. ^ "Symbols of Nunavut". Government of Nunavut. Archived from the original on 2006-04-27. Retrieved 2006-06-13. 
  11. ^ "Transcript of Sharing a Story: The Inuksuk". Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. Retrieved 2006-06-13. [dead link]
  12. ^ Inukshuk - The Arctic Art & Music Project of ARBOS, edition selene, Vienna 1999. ISBN 3-85266-126-9
  13. ^ Press release from the Government of Canada, Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Google cache copy.
  14. ^ Of ego and inukshuks, Globe and Mail. August 17, 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-19.
  15. ^ a b "The Inukshukification of Highway 69". Northern Life, September 22, 2010.
  16. ^ Green, Sarah. "Inuit art finds home in Mexico", Toronto Sun, 2 Nov 2007, Retrieved 2007-11-08.
  17. ^ Proceedings of the XLVI Meeting of the Summit Implementation Review Group (SIRG)
  18. ^ "The Biggest, the Smallest: World Records and 20 Minutes of Fame", 20 Minutes of Fame Blog, 7 Jan 2008
  19. ^ Large Canadian Roadside Attractions

External links

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