Birds Drawn to the Inuksuit
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Notes from DaVic Gallery: ‘Birds Drawn to the Inuksuit’ – Through adaptation, perseverance and acquired knowledge about the land, the Inuit successfully travelled vast distances across it using a combination of tangible and intangible navigation techniques. Depending on the weather, season, or time of day, the Inuit were able to way-find using cognitive maps, celestial bodies, natural features and modified landscape forms.
One such form made by Inuit to convey navigational messages is known as inuksuk or inukshuk (plural: inuksuit) — purpose built markers made from dry stacked stones, driftwood or bones. To the uninformed, inuksuit appear as just a pile of rocks adorning a featureless landscape, but to those who can decipher the rock formations, much more is revealed. To the Inuit, inuksuit are objects of veneration — they are embedded in the roots of Inuit society within songs, shamanism, myths, legends and stories. Archaeological research speculates that some inuksuit were built during the Dorset era, around 2000 BC. Inuksuit continue to be re-erected and new ones constructed, affirming their functional capacity as navigation beacons in the twenty-first century. They stand as an historical legacy and reminder of ancestral relationships with the land.
The term inuksuk is a derivative of the Inuktitut morphemes, Inuk (“human being” Inuit, pl.) and -suk (“to act in the capacity of” -suit, pl.) The combination of these morphemes forms inuksuk (Baffin Island form), which means, “that acts in the capacity of a human”. The spelling of the word varies slightly throughout the Arctic, as the Nunavik (Arctic Quebec) version inutsuk, and the Igloolik version inuksugaq (plural: inuksugait). Inuksuit are revered and charged with humanistic characteristics because: “An inuksuk is strongly connected to the land; it is built on the land, it is made of the land and it tells of the land.” In support of the inherent connection between inuksuit and the land, arctic inuksuit functioned as messages created by the arrangements of stones. They were an integral part of the hunter’s language, and endure as indelible signatures on the arctic landscape. Inuksuit were reliable message centres. To the travelling hunter, inuksuit were a welcome sight; some described the course to follow, others pointed to good hunting and fishing areas and some marked where food was cached. They provided purposeful Information and assistance to those who knew how to read their forms.
Another purpose used of the Inuksuit was to aid herding caribou into a trap where hunters would be in hiding waiting for the herd.