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What is an Inukshuk?

The mysterious stone figures known as inuksuit can be found throughout the circumpolar world. Inukshuk, the singular of inuksuit, means "in the likeness of a human" in the Inuit language. They are monuments made of unworked stones that are used by the Inuit for communication and survival. The traditional meaning of the inukshuk is "Someone was here" or "You are on the right path."

The Inuit make inuksuit in different forms for a variety of purposes: as navigation or directional aids, to mark a place of respect or memorial for a beloved person, or to indicate migration routes or places where fish can be found. Other similar stone structures were objects of veneration, signifying places of power or the abode of spirits. Although most inuksuit appear singly, sometimes they are arranged in sequences spanning great distances or are grouped to mark a specific place.

These sculptural forms are among the oldest and most important objects placed by humans upon the vast Arctic landscape and have become a familiar symbol of the Inuit and of their homeland. Inuit tradition forbids the destruction of inuksuit. An inukshuk (also known as inuksuk) is often venerated as symbolizing an ancestor who knew how to survive on the land in the traditional way. A familiar inukshuk is a welcome sight to a traveler on a featureless and forbidding landscape.

An inukshuk can be small or large, a single rock, several rocks balanced on each other, round boulders or flat. Built from whatever stones are at hand, each one is unique. The arrangement of stones indicates the purpose of the marker. The directions of arms or legs could indicate the direction of an open channel for navigation, or a valley for passage through the mountains. An inukshuk without arms, or with antlers affixed to it, would act as a marker for a cache of food.

An inukshuk in the form of a human being is called an inunnguaq. This type of structure forms the basis of the logo of the 2010 Winter Olympics designed by Vancouver artist Elena Rivera MacGregor. It is widely acknowledged that this design pays tribute to the inukshuk that stands at Vancouver's English Bay, which was created by artisan Alvin Kanak of Rankin Inlet, Northwest Territories. Friendship and the welcoming of the world are the meanings of both the English Bay structure and the 2010 Winter Olympics emblem.

Sources: Wikkipedia, James Marsh - The Canadian Encyclopedia, Norman Hallendy – Inuksuit: the Silent Messengers


About Inukshuk Gallery and Gallery Indigena

For more than 35 years, Gallery Indigena of Stratford, Ontario has been a major centre for Canadian indigenous art. Erla Boyer left a teaching position in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology to open a gallery of native art.

With the late Norman Socha, Erla Boyer opened the first ever inukshuk gallery in Canada in Waterloo, Ontario. It is now a division of Gallery Indigena, Vancouver, Inc.

“Erla expresses a love and enthusiasm for native people and their creative work which is reflected in the gallery itself and in her deep involvement with the artists of Canada's First Nations.” - Dr. Laird Christie, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario.


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