The northern regions of Canada, Alaska, and Greenland contain countless Inukshuks. These unique rock formations are created by stacking flat rocks on top of one another. Inukshuks draw the eye in with their delicately balanced form.

Meaning of the Word

The word Inukshukk means “to act in the capacity of a human.” Practically speaking, Indigenous groups in the North used Inukshuks as guides or signposts on what might otherwise be a featureless landscape at any time of the year. 

Purpose of Inukshuks 

An Inukshuk could indicate a food source (such as a food cache or good fishing or hunting grounds). It could also serve as a warning (for example, an indicator of a slippery trail), or provide a coordinate for travellers. Inukshuks were also used to herd and hunt caribou. 

But the purpose of Inukshuks went beyond mere marking. They have also been used to mark a sacred area or honour the loss of a loved one. 


Inukshuks are constructed in various shapes and sizes depending on their intended usage. For example, smaller Inukshuks could be used as guides indicating a direction of travel. The largest Inukshuks, also known as Inuksummarik, could be used as major navigational points. Another type of Inukshuk, known as Inunnguaq, resembles humans and tend to be symbolic in nature.

An Icon

Ancient trade required travel so that distant First Nations could exchange goods with each other. Travel requires navigation which in turn requires signposts — in the form of Inukshuks. 

In a sense, the Inukshuk not only guided First Nations groups to each other in terms of directions, but the rock formations were a signal that the other was open for business. Seen in this way, Inukshuks were used as both a signal of trade and to provide a warm welcome and reassurance to those on the trail.    

Inukshuks were also used to guide distant visitors to fertile areas to fish and hunt, and provide a  welcome to other individuals wanting to source food.

A Symbol of Collective Effort

The act of creating a large Inukshuk requires the combined efforts of many people and types of machinery. This can be seen as a metaphor for First Nations economic development where collaboration is an important principle. 

When viewed in this light, The Inukshuk could be seen to represent a joint venture or alliance between First Nations and their economic development partners.  

In essence, an Inukshuk shows the powerful things that can be achieved when people work together for a common goal.