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An inuksuk at Igloolik, Nunavut, Canada

An inuksuk (plural inuksuit) [1] (from the Inuktitut: ᐃᓄᒃᓱᒃ, plural ᐃᓄᒃᓱᐃᑦ; alternatively inukhuk in Inuinnaqtun,[2] inussuk in Greenlandic or inukshuk in English[3]) is a human-made stone landmark or cairn 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 to mark 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 ancient roots in Inuit culture.

Historically, the most common type of inuksuk is a single stone positioned in an upright manner. 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. The size of some inuksuit 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.[7][8]


  • Name 1
  • Modern usage 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Inuksuk in the vicinity of Kuujjuarapik, Quebec.
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).

While the predominant English spelling is inukshuk, both the Government of Nunavut[9] and the Government of Canada through Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada[10] promote 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.
An inuksuk on the grounds of the National Assembly, Quebec City
Inuksuit marking Canada's building site at Auroville, Tamil Nadu, India.

Inuksuit continue to serve as an Inuit cultural symbol. An inuksuk is the centrepiece of the flag and coat of arms of the Canadian territory of Nunavut, and the flag of Nunatsiavut. The Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit is named after the landmark.

Inuksuit—particularly, but not exclusively, of the inunnguaq variety—are also 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.[11]

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.[12] 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.

Artisan Alvin Kanak of Rankin Inlet, Northwest Territories (now in the territory of Nunavut), created an inuksuk as a gift to the city of Vancouver for Expo 86. The land has since been donated to the city, and is now a protected site.

"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 among the Inuit, and the First Nations within British Columbia. Although the design has been questioned, people believe it pays tribute to the inuksuk that stands at Vancouver's English Bay. Friendship and the welcoming of the world are the meanings of both the English Bay structure and the 2010 Winter Olympics emblem.

The Vancouver 2010 logo and the construction of inuksuit around the world have led to increasing recognition of them. 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.[13]

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 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, because of its connotations of "guidance and unity...towards common goals."[14]

Officials in various wilderness parks throughout Canada routinely 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

A large number of inuksuit have been built in some areas along the Trans-Canada Highway, including Northern Ontario. In 2010, a journalist from Sudbury's Northern Life counted 93 inuksuit along Highway 69 between Sudbury and Parry Sound. 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]

According to Guinness World Records, the tallest inuksuk is in Schomberg, Ontario, Canada. Built in 2007, it is 11.377 m tall.[16]

The Canadian rock band Rush featured a lone inuksuk on the cover of their 1996 album Test for Echo.

See also


  1. ^ Spalding, Alex; Thomas Kusugak (1998). Inuktitut: A Multi-dialectal Outline Dictionary.  
  2. ^ Ohokak, G.; M. Kadlun; B. Harnum. Inuinnaqtun-English Dictionary. Kitikmeot Heritage Society. 
  3. ^ "Inukshuk". Asuilaak Living Dictionary. Retrieved 2007-02-16. 
  4. ^ a b Gray, Charlotte (2004). The Museum Called Canada, 25 Rooms of Wonder. Toronto: Random House Canada.  
  5. ^ "The Inuit Inukshuk". Simon Fraser University. Retrieved 1 January 2013. 
  6. ^ 28 Ethnobiology Conference Abstracts
  7. ^ "Inuksuk National Historic Site of Canada". Directory of Designations of National Historic Significance of Canada. Parks Canada. 
  8. ^ National Historic Sites Of Canada System Plan
  9. ^ "Symbols of Nunavut". Government of Nunavut. Archived from the original on 2006-04-27. Retrieved 2006-06-13. 
  10. ^ "Transcript of Sharing a Story: The Inuksuk".  
  11. ^ Inukshuk - The Arctic Art & Music Project of ARBOS, edition selene, Vienna 1999. ISBN 3-85266-126-9
  12. ^ Press release from the Government of Canada, Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Google cache copy.
  13. ^ Green, Sarah. "Inuit art finds home in Mexico", Toronto Sun, 2 Nov 2007, Retrieved 2007-11-08.
  14. ^ Proceedings of the XLVI Meeting of the Summit Implementation Review Group (SIRG)
  15. ^ "The Inukshukification of Highway 69".  
  16. ^ "Tallest Inukshuk". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 1 January 2013. 

External links

  • Peter Irniq, "The Ancestral Inuksuk", Naniiliqpita Magazine, spring 2006, p. 18-19.
  • Places of Power - essay and photographs of inuksuit
  • Ilanaaq – Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games Emblem
  • CBC News - Vancouver Olympic emblem comes under fire
  • Canadian Heritage Minute video about the inuksuk
  • Scott Heyes, "Protecting the authenticity and integrity of inuksuit within the arctic milieu", Études/Inuit/Studies, Volume 26, numéro 2, 2002, p. 133-156.
  • Nelson Graburn, "Inuksuk: Icon of the Inuit of Nunavut" Études/Inuit/Studies, Volume 28, numéro 1, 2004, p. 69-82
  • 2010 Olympic inuksuk snow sculpture from My News
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