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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] iñuksuk in Iñupiaq, inussuk in Greenlandic or inukshuk in English[3]) is a human-made stone landmark or cairn used by the Inuit, Iñupiat, Kalaallit, Yupik, and other peoples of the Arctic region of North America. These structures are found from Alaska, United States 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.[citation needed]

Historically, the most common types of inuksuk are built with stone placed upon stone, and the simplest type of which is a single stone positioned in an upright manner.[7] 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.[citation needed] 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.[8][9]


Inuksuk in the vicinity of Kuujjuarapik, Quebec.
Inuksuit at the Foxe Peninsula (Baffin Island), Canada.

The word inuksuk means "that which acts in the capacity of a human."[10] The word comes from the morphemes inuk ("person")[11] and -suk ("ersatz, 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).[citation needed]

While the predominant English spelling is inukshuk, both the Government of Nunavut[12] and the Government of Canada through Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada[13] promote the Inuit-preferred spelling inuksuk.

A structure similar to an inuksuk is called an inunnguaq (ᐃᓄᙳᐊᖅ, "imitation of a person", plural inunnguat); it is meant to represent a human figure. Inunnguaq has become widely familiar to non-Inuit, and particularly found in Greenland.[14] 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.[citation needed]

Modern usage[edit]

An inuksuk on the flag of Nunavut
Sunset on the inuksuk at English Bay, Vancouver, B.C.
Unveiling ceremony of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games emblem, "Ilanaaq the inukshuk", April 24, 2005
Inuksuk near the United States border in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario. The entrance to the International Bridge can be seen in the background.

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.[15]

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.[16] 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.

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 Alvin Kanak's 1986 inuksuk at English Bay. Friendship and the welcoming of the world are the meanings of both the English Bay structure and the 2010 Winter Olympics emblem.[citation needed]

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.[17]

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."[18]

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 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.[19]

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.[20]

According to Guinness World Records, the tallest inuksuk is in Schomberg, Ontario, Canada. Built in 2007, it is 11.377 metres (37.33 ft) tall.[21]

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

On the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the Rome Statute and to mark Canada’s support for the International Criminal Court (ICC) [22] and as a symbol for its commitment to reconciliation with Canada’s First Nations, Canadian Minister of Justice and Attorney General Wilson-Raybould on 7 March 2018 handed over an Inukshuk as a gift to the ICC, which was revealed by her and ICC President Judge Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi at its premises in The Hague.[23]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Spalding, Alex; Thomas Kusugak (1998). Inuktitut: A Multi-dialectal Outline Dictionary. ISBN 1-896204-29-5.
  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. ISBN 978-0679312208.
  5. ^ "The Inuit Inukshuk". Simon Fraser University. Archived from the original on 23 December 2012. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  6. ^ 28 Ethnobiology Conference Abstracts Archived 2008-05-30 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ Inuksuk. The Canadian Encyclopedia
  8. ^ "Inuksuk National Historic Site of Canada". Directory of Designations of National Historic Significance of Canada. Parks Canada.[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ National Historic Sites of Canada System Plan Archived 2006-05-29 at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^ Hallendy, Norman (2009). Tukiliit: An introduction to inuksuit and other stone figures of the North. Vancouver, British Columbia: Douglas & McIntyre and University of Alaska Press. p. 60. ISBN 9781553654247.
  11. ^ Nunavut Living Dictionary
  12. ^ "Symbols of Nunavut". Government of Nunavut. Archived from the original on 2006-04-27. Retrieved 2006-06-13.
  13. ^ "Transcript of Sharing a Story: The Inuksuk". Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. Archived from the original on May 6, 2008. Retrieved 2006-06-13.
  14. ^ Fitzhugh, William W. (2017-03-01). "Mongolian Deer Stones, European Menhirs, and Canadian Arctic Inuksuit: Collective Memory and the Function of Northern Monument Traditions". Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. 24 (1): 149–187. doi:10.1007/s10816-017-9328-0. ISSN 1072-5369.
  15. ^ Inukshuk – The Arctic Art & Music Project of ARBOS, edition selene, Vienna 1999. ISBN 3-85266-126-9
  16. ^ Press release from the Government of Canada, Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Google cache copy[permanent dead link].
  17. ^ Green, Sarah. "Inuit art finds home in Mexico", Toronto Sun, 2 Nov 2007, Retrieved 2007-11-08.
  18. ^ Proceedings of the XLVI Meeting of the Summit Implementation Review Group (SIRG)
  19. ^ Dubé, Rebecca (August 15, 2007). "Enough with the inukshuks already". The Globe and Mail. Toronto.
  20. ^ "The Inukshukification of Highway 69". Northern Life. September 22, 2010. Archived from the original on October 30, 2015.
  21. ^ "Tallest Inukshuk". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  22. ^ Canada and the International Criminal Court
  23. ^ Canada Justice Minister and ICC President unveil artwork donation

External links[edit]