This marvellous 1989 sculpture on the rooftop of the Winnipeg Art Gallery by Manasie Akpaliapik is called Inuksuk. But I learned after I had worked at the art gallery for a couple of years that it actually wasn’t an inuksuk at all. It was an inunnguaq. What’s the difference?
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia inuksuit (the plural for inuksuk) also sometimes called Inukshuks have been found at sites that date from as long ago as 2400 BC. They are formations of rocks used by people across the Arctic as markers for all kinds of purposes- navigational routes, good kayak landing spots, good hunting and fishing sites, locations of celebrations and caches of meat. These markers can be in many different formations.
Inunnguaq on the other hand are shaped like human beings and can venerate a person, mark a spot for people to meet, or have spiritual significance.
So this symbol on the flag of the Canadian territory Nunavut is an inuksuk or inukshuk because although it looks somewhat like a human figure it does not have legs.
But in 2010 this symbol chosen for the Olympic Games in Vancouver was really an inunnguaq even though officials and the media regularly referred to it incorrectly as an inuksuk or inukshuk.
Piita Irniq, Inuit cultural activist, inuksuk builder, and former Nunavut commissioner, says it is important to distinguish between inuksuit and inunnguaqs because inunnguaqs have only been built in the last hundred years or so, largely by non-Inuit people, and are not authentic inuksuit.
There are inunnguaqs mistakenly called inukshuks or inuksuit all over the world.
This statue in Hiroshima Japan is called an inukshuk on the plaque at its base although it is clearly an inunnguaq.
So when is an inuksuk not a Inuksuk?
When it’s an inunnguaq !