In the spirit of the sesquicentennial of the birth of our nation, I have been thinking for a while now on how I could capture the true image of what it means to be a Canadian and what symbolizes the great spirit of living in such a beautiful country. I have had the privilege of travelling across Canada many times and have lived in five of our diverse and unique provinces. What eventually came to mind was an important symbol of one of Canada’s original inhabitants, the Inuit Inukshuk.
As Canadians, we are known around the world for our friendliness. It’s a characteristic that may be related to the centuries old tradition of dealing with a harsh, often unforgiving climate and landscape, such as the Inuit have. We have always needed the help of others to live in this country, and, while there is a core of rugged individualism, it’s tempered by a sense of communal spirit that represents the very best of Canadian values.
The Inuksuk mirrors this Canadian spirit of friendship and community. There are many kinds of Inuksuit (plural), and they mean different things depending on how and where they are built. The skill of building an Inuksuk was passed down from one generation to the next, with each Inuksuk having a specific purpose and meaning.
Traditionally, they were used by the Inuit in the north as directional markers. An Inuksuk in the shape of a person signifies safety, hope, and friendship. These stone sculptures were also important for navigation, as a point of reference, as a marker for hunting grounds, or to denote a food cache. They were visible in snowy conditions, can endure extreme weather and, ultimately, can help people survive. They later evolved to have symbolic spiritual uses, marking places of judgment and decision-making, worship, and celebration.
The hands of many and the efforts of an entire group were required to build these massive stone sculptures. They are the result of a consensus of purpose, of focused action by a group united in its goal and labour. The Inuksuk is a product of cooperation, teaching us that as good as our individual efforts may be, together we can do even greater things.
Each stone is a separate entity. Each support, and is supported by, the one above and the one below it. No one piece is any important than another. Its strength lies in its unity. Its significance comes from its meaning. What is true about the Inuksuk is true about people. Each individual entity alone has significance. As part of a team each of us supports, and is supported by, another. We are united by our common goals, and together we are part of a greater whole.
The stones which make up the Inuksuk are secured through balance. They are chosen for how well they fit together. Looking at the structure it can be easily seen that the removal of even one stone will destroy the integrity of the whole. So, too, with a team. Each individual in a team is necessary for the realization of the team’s purpose. The removal of even one person will result in the weakening of the structure. What holds the team together is the balance – the complementary nature of the individual skills.
The Inuksuk have been transformed into a symbol of hope and friendship that transcends borders to reach people all over the world. It has become a universal symbol of friendship. The Inuksuk conveys our basic human warmth and friendliness as Canadians and remind us of the values that make Canada a truly great place to live. It highlights our truly Canadian values of friendship and community. If visitors ask you what the Inuksuk is, simply tell them it represents Canadian friendship, the heart of our country.
The Inuksuk are a symbol of the human spirit. They recognize our ability to succeed with others, where we would fail alone. They remind Canadians of our need to belong to something greater than ourselves. They reinforce our ability to commit to common goals. The Inuksuk celebrates Canadians working together. They continue to remind us of our inter-dependent responsibilities to invest our efforts today, to direct a better way for all of our tomorrows.
Today, the Inuksuk are a tangible symbol of Canadians communicating – a universal means of speaking about our concerns for one another, and our dependence on one another. Because of its history, the Inuksuk is an effective vehicle to acknowledge and convey enlightened management and human resource practices, the importance of personal contribution, responsible environmental leadership and an invitation to speak with one another on a higher level about what really matters.
Everyone needs to know they are making a difference in their family, in their jobs, to their colleagues, and to whatever tasks they devote their time, energy, and enthusiasm. The Inuksuk act as a reminder to all of us that our efforts are appreciated. The difference we make today, counts in all our tomorrows. It helps distinguish us as Canadians and guides us in Keeping Life Current.