Most Canadians know what an inuksuk looks like. We have learned that this monument made from stone is rich in historical significance to the Inuit. The term ‘inuksuk’ comes from the Inkutitut language: ‘inuk’ means ‘person’ and ‘-suk’ stands for ‘substitute’. The plural form is ‘inuksuit’.
These stone formations have been erected by the indigenous peoples of the Arctic region for countless generations. They come in many different forms and sizes. Inuksuit have been created for communication and survival in the harsh Arctic landscape of ice and snow: they act as navigation aids, marking trails, caches of food, nearby settlements, or migration routes of caribou. Inuksuit containing a ‘window’ may point to a good hunting or fishing place.
Some inuksuit have spiritual significance and indicate a sacred ground. According to Inuit tradition, all inuksuit are sacred and should never be destroyed or damaged. These ancient petroforms are guides, markers, messengers, and lifelines to the past.
Today, we can find inuksuit in places far beyond the Arctic landscape. As a modern day structure, they symbolize friendship and teamwork: each stone element relies on the balance of the other for support of the overall arrangement. The inuksuk is a truly universal symbol of human interdependence.
Another type of formation is the ‘inunnguaq’. It represents a human figure with head and arms. An example would be ‘Ilanaaq’ the emblem for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
Recently, a dear friend honoured me with a very special inuksuk. It is a small version made from pebbles collected in nature: a thank you in memory of his son Chris.
When I ponder the essence of this gift, the German word ‘Wegweiser’ comes to mind – the poetic meaning is that of ‘guide’ or ‘guardian’.
No matter what proportions, from majestic boulder to pebble size, the inuksuit is a symbol that transcends time and cultures. It speaks to us in a language we can all understand if we care to listen.
As we move into the New Year, may we take notice of the ‘Wegweiser’ that marks our trail.