An inukshuk at Whistler Olympic Park in B.C. (Don Emmert/Getty Images)
The flag of Nunavut has one on it. If you visit northern Canada, you’ll probably run into quite a few of them.
They’re called an inukshuk (say "i-NOOK-shook"). You might be surprised at the many uses Inuit people have for them.
An inukshuk on a mountain in Iqaluit, Nunavut. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)
An inukshuk is a structure made of stones piled on top of each other. Inuksuit, or inukshuks (more than one inukshuk) are used for navigation in the frozen north. There in the snow everything can look the same.
Inukshuks are also used to mark sacred places. They can also work like signposts to make a good hunting or fishing spot.
A long time ago, hunters would pile rocks up to build a path with inukshuks on both sides. The women would chase the caribou down the path. The hunters would be hiding behind the inukshuks with bows and arrows.
Inunnguat artwork courtesy of Melanie Florence.
What most people call an inukshuk isn’t what the Inuit call an inukshuk. We think of those stones that are piled up to look like a person, with arms and legs and a head, as an inukshuk.
But those amazing human-shaped structures are actually called inunnguat or inunnguaq. That means "imitation of a person," or "pretend person."
Inukshuks are made of stacked stones that are picked because they fit well together. There is no glue or cement that holds them together. They stay up because they are balanced on each other. Each stone supports the one above and below it.
There are both large and small inukshuk. That's because you can use any stones you find to make your inukshuk or inunnquaq. So every single one is different. Kind of like a snowflake.