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The Inukshuk: Cultural Icon – Cultural Appropriation


The Inukshuk: A Symbol of Canada’s Rich History and a Guide for Travelers

Canada is a country that holds within itself diverse cultures, traditions, and histories. And one of the most unique and iconic symbols of Canadian history and culture is the Inukshuk. For centuries, these stone structures have been used by indigenous people as waymarkers, navigational aids, and communication tools.

For travellers, the Inukshuk offers an opportunity to witness this rich history and a guide to exploring Canada’s vast and stunning landscape.

Inukshuk (or Inuksuit) have been found close to archaeological sites dating from 2400 to 1800 BCE in the Mingo Lake region of southwest Baffin Island. While stone figures resembling human forms are often referred to as inuksuk, such figures are actually known as inunnguaq. The inunnguaq is the symbol we all know today (Thanks Heritage Minutes).

The Meaning and History of Inukshuk:

The Inukshuk is a stone structure made by the Inuit people in the Canadian Arctic. Its design has changed over the centuries, but its purpose has remained the same: to act as a guidepost, a landmark, or a sign for other travellers in the harsh and unforgiving Arctic environment.

Historically, the Inukshuk would have been used as a navigational aid or to mark the location of essential resources, such as hunting grounds or freshwater sources. For the Inuit people, the Inukshuk symbolized safety, guidance, and hope, enabling them to navigate and survive in a challenging environment.

Types of Inukshuk

Four distinct shapes of Inukshuk exhibit a surprisingly wide range of expression.

  1. The most basic form is the nalunaikkutaq, which translates to “deconfuser,” consisting of a single upright stone.
  2. Another category is the tikkuuti, which serves as pointers of various sizes and shapes. Tikkuuti can take the form of triangular rocks lying flat on the ground or simple yet functional arrangements of rocks arranged in a straight line, with the largest rock at one end gradually decreasing in size towards the other end, indicating the desired direction.
  3. The third type is an inuksummarik or inuksukjuaq, known for its larger-than-average size. These prominent Inukshuk serve as significant coordination points, easily visible from a distance.
  4. Lastly, there are Inukshuk that have been repurposed as message centres in addition to their original function. Hunters would leave arrangements of stones at the base for their followers to find.
Types of Inukshuks

Practical Uses

An inuksuk serves multiple purposes, including marking the location of a hidden object or cache. It can also indicate a change of course or act as a sign for followers to go to an alternative location or a relative’s camp. For example, hunters can use it to signal the location where a harpooned seal went down in shallow water, making it easier to retrieve later. These messages hold significance for hunting partners and the community as a whole.

Large slabs of stone can be arranged in various ways, not just stacked. They can form elaborate structures, like supports for beams. Some Inukshuk, known as niungvaliruluit, have a “window” that aligns with another inuksuk, creating a sightline to a place below the horizon. These alignments were not always strictly functional, as experienced hunters already knew the directions. Instead, they served as a way for people to connect their thoughts to distant and familiar places, especially when far from home. Not unlike the Marks, fishermen used to safely find their way.

Mark: One of two (or more) land features or objects lined up by a fisherman in order to locate the position of a fishing ground


Inukshuk serve various purposes, including navigation aids, marking routes, and identifying significant locations. They also act as astronomical sight lines, aligning with the pole star and mid-winter moon.

The Contemporary Use of Inukshuk:

Over time, the Inukshuk has become a symbol of Canada and is now used in modern times for a wide range of purposes. It symbolizes unity, pride, and strength for all Canadians. Inukshuk is used as a landmark to guide travellers through the Canadian countryside, as a symbol of recognition for charitable organizations, and as a monument of cultural significance.

Using Inukshuk as a nation-building symbol is another example of how we, as Canadians, continue to celebrate and recognize our rich histories, but it is vital to use this symbol wisely.

As a nation, we cannot dismiss the first nations and ignore their history while simultaneously using their cultural symbols to gain favour on the global stage. We must acknowledge the importance of their heritage and ensure that our actions align with our words – as politicians and citizens.

The use of symbols like the Inukshuk should be approached with reverence; they represent a cherished piece of history. Utilizing them thoughtlessly and without deep respect would be ill-advised.

Inukshuk in Newfoundland

Inukshuks for Travelers:

One fascinating way to explore Canada’s vast and diverse landscapes is through the ancient stone guidepost of Inukshuk. Dating back to the Inuit people of the Arctic, Inukshuk is a wise guidepost that provides direction to travellers and helps them stay safe while exploring the unknown terrain.

Today, travellers can gaze upon Inukshuk monuments dotted throughout Canada and use them as a guide or compass when exploring the countryside. From Victoria to Newfoundland, the Inukshuk can be found in all corners of the country and is an excellent way to connect with Canada’s landscapes and people.

It is crucial not to underestimate the hazards associated with the use of Inukshuk while hiking and exploring Canada’s vast natural landscapes. When relying on this stone guidepost as a path-finder, it is imperative to maintain situational awareness. Furthermore, it is imperative to preserve the Inukshuk’s original position and refrain from any form of disturbance, as it holds significant historical value, symbolizing the essence of Canadian heritage.

For those who are looking to contribute to the preservation of the Inukshuk symbol, there are a variety of ways to get involved. Many organizations welcome donations and volunteers in order to help keep this unique form of navigation alive. As Canadians, we should all strive to protect and preserve each part of our history, from coast-to-coast.

Inukshuk, is it cultural appropriation?

The topic of whether Inukshuk constitutes cultural appropriation has sparked extensive discussions and debates, particularly in recent years. Acknowledging that the Inukshuk symbol carries profound cultural significance for Indigenous communities and should be treated with respect accordingly is crucial.

Utilizing the symbol without proper consent from its original creators can be seen as disrespectful and even dangerous. It is essential to refrain from constructing or relocating an Inukshuks. Instead, when you encounter one, take a moment to appreciate its presence while mindful not to disturb its integrity.

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