“We were here” Inuit communication system and markers
Inuit had limited communication systems before the arrival of southern technology but inuksuit, stone cairns placed on high or prominent land sites, did at times serve that purpose, relaying important information such as a route to follow, where a food cache might be or the location of a campsite.
Inuksuit can vary in size, with the largest being built of massive boulders, causing one to wonder how humans could construct such immense and heavy structures. Some inuksuit also have spiritual connotations, as reflected in the large group at Inuksuk Point near Cape Dorset on southwest Baffin Island.
Nowadays, inuksuit are often erected in front of important buildings, at significant locations or at major events. Some are simply constructed by individuals who want to mark a place of good memories.
Modern inuksuit are often constructed with heads, arms, and legs, made to look like human beings. But the elders remind people that when Inuit lived on the land, inuksuit were often used as eye-catching markers and didn’t necessarily have to resemble a human being. Their unnatural shape immediately told a passerby that it was man-made and therefore carried information. The well-known CBC Heritage Minutes clip about an inuksuk aptly confirmed the native presence in the Canadian North so many years ago when one of the Inuit in the film put claim to the land by saying “Now the people will know we were here!”
Nick Newbery taught in several communities in Nunavut from 1976-2005. The photos in this article are from Nick’s Arctic photo collection which can be found at www.newberyphotoarchives.ca and should be viewed from a historical perspective.
Nick passed away February 2020. This is the last installment of articles provided to above&beyond Magazine from Nick. We thank Nick and his family for his many years of contributions to Canada’s Arctic Journal.