Canada’s Inukshuk

When Vancouver put in its bid for the Winter Olympics four years ago the planning committee decided to adopt as its logo the Inuit inukshuk. The little figure was dressed up in red, orange, mauve, purple and green and given a proper name: Ilanaaq.

Committee CEO John Furlong predicted that before long Ilanaaq would replace the maple leaf as Canada’s national symbol. It “will speak to the humanity of the country, the people, the culture, the values we have … It is time for us to go on and find a new mark” (National Post April 25, 2005, A1).

There were objections. Chief Edward John, of the Fist Nations Summit representing 150 of British Columbia’s 200 tribes, said: “It’s a slap in the face to B.C.’s indigenous peoples. I mean, just look at it. An inukshuk is used to mark places in a desolate, barren environment. Now look outside. That is the rain forest. I could see the significance if the Games were being held in Yellowknife, but they aren’t.”

He has a point. Can a symbol associated with one particular people and culture be used to represent a multicultural nation? Westerners complain about the maple leaf; there are no red maples west of the Manitoba border as they constantly remind the rest of us.

But Canadians are getting used to their little hominid. He’s jaunty. He’s smiling.

And when you come down to it why shouldn’t a smiling human-like heap of coloured rocks represent Canada’s humanity, culture, and values. As the song says: “Anything goes.”

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