The Inukshuk is a human-shaped pile of stones used by the Inuit (Eskimo) people as a trail marker, a sign of safety, a marker for a special or sacred spot, and some might say as a protective fetish or totem. It is featured on the flag of the Canadian Inuit territory, Nunavut. Currently it is a symbol of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, so the entire world will soon be introduced to this Canadian symbol.
In southern Canada, summer cottagers have traditionally decorated rocky lake shores and outcroppings of Precambrian rock adjacent to highways in the lake cottage districts with these little curiosities. Even without knowing what they are or what they mean many Canadians come to take some solace in seeing them. Parents on long car or camping trips with their young children can point them out,
“Look! There’s another inukshuk!”
At the end of my last Canadian trip, August 2009, I bought two inukshukfigurines at one of the Duty Free shops in Toronto’s Pearson InternationalAirport. Now, I am not a great fan of Duty Free shopping because usually I have little or no money plus little inclination to acquire more stuff at that point in my trip. But I become more superstitious as I get older, and I happened to have a little extra money at the end of this year’s trip, so I bought a few trinkets while waiting for my (delayed) boarding time. I bought an inukshuk necklace for myself - quickly lost in Tokyo as the cheap leather tie failed and it slipped unnoticed off my neck - and an inukshuk cell phone strap decoration, also for myself.
Some Japanese asked me,“What is that?”
“It’s an inukshuk. It’s an Inuit, or Eskimo symbol of safety.`
But they thought I was joking. It sounds funny. “Inu” has several uses for the Eskimo people. “Inuit” is their name for themselves, and “Inuktituk” is their language.
“ ‘Inukshuk’ is your word? It’s a joke?”
“No!! It’s an inukshuk. Look, I’ll show you on the Internet.”
But too many people walk away laughing and shrugging their shoulders.
It’s so annoying when you’re telling the truth about something and people just don’t listen.
Oh, well. As the Inuit proverb says, “Inaluit ta shakake lubu ineti.”