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September 7, 2007

All shook up over the Inukshuk



Inuksuit - Inuit stone markers - are seen in many places today and most people think it honours the Inuit.  Others disagree arguing that the First Nation symbol or metaphor has spiritual and cultural meaning to them and should not be appropriated by others.  Before examining the issue let me tell you about my inukshuk. 

Actually, it's not mine.  I just happened to have it on the back of some acreage I have near the boundary of Algonquin Park.  My son was hiking recently to a small lake at the back of the property where he saw the inukshuk shown here overlooking the lake, like an Inuit created inukshuk watching over a territory or perhaps giving direction.  There is an old trail across the property that is used occasionally by hikers and hunters. 

Bear Mountain Inukshuk

I had no idea who put it there but was impressed by how beautiful it was - not only in itself but in its setting.  It had its own personality with one foot turned aside and other human characteristics.  In Inuit the word inukshuk means "in the likeness of man".  We took a photo and showed it around and eventually found out who made it.  The son of a local family that likes to hike made it one day this spring.  He is not known as an artist but I think the piece is a remarkable sculpture.  I thought of moving it but a little research told me that the Inuit never destroy or move them so there it will remain overseeing the lake, watching the Park, and any animal that wanders over the Park boundary. 

Bear Mountain Inukshuk overlooking small lake   P. Mackey photos.


The internet notes that an inukshuk is appropriately incorporated into the flag and coat of arms of Nunavut and on the flag of Nunatsiavut in the Inuit region of Labrador.  The Vancouver 2010 Olympic emblem is an inukshuk.  The Federal government placed an inukshuk at Juno Beach to honour the spot where Canadian Forces landed in 1944.  It has appeared on coins and there is a book on the topic - Inuksuit - Silent Messengers of the Arctic by Norman Hallendy, University of Washington Press (2000).  The North Bay Library has a copy.  (Inuksuit is the plural of inukshuk).  Some Inuit artists have made sculptures based on the inukshuk concept. 

The Canadian Encyclopedia describes the purposes of the inukshuk.  They are used to give direction with a long arm indicating which way to go or which way to find fish or game.  It also marks a place of respect or a memorial.  They were also made to look more human with arctic heather to spook caribou in a hunt.  Large inuksuit built in key locations also indicate the territory of an Inuit family. 

On the questionable side for example there is a Toronto Real Estate Company that uses the inukshuk as a logo implying - solidity, direction, permanency, the parts (the team) working together in their company. 

Further on the negative side of the appropriation and commercialization issue is the proliferation of the inukshuk along highways on top of rock faces and anywhere else rocks are available.  While recognizing the creativity, the fun, the relaxation people get along with the implied respect of the Inuit metaphor there are problems 

An article and an editorial in the Globe and Mail looked at both sides of the issue prompted by some Provincial Parks complaining that archeological material is being disturbed to make them.  Kilarney Provincial Park's officers have issued a request to visitors to "stop the invasion".  Apparently their cairns used to provide direction are not working because visitors are building inuksuit that are leading people astray.  At the French River Visitor Centre some 30 inuksuit were dismantled in one day which made a lot of work for the staff. 

Park officials at the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve in B.C. have another reason to take them down.  They say they interfere with the natural beauty of the park. 

Letters to the editor are critical of attempts to curtail peoples' creativity while other say build them, but do it in your own backyard.  In any case I already have mine in my back yard and we hope to enjoy its powerful presence for a long time. 

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