Build Your Own Inuksuk: Official Symbol of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics

Filed under: Activities: Babies, Books for Kids, Cabin Fever

Has your family caught Olympic fever? Ours sure has. The Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics are taking place right here in Canada, and even though our family won't be travelling to see events live, Cabin Fever plans to mark the occasion in a special way. The official symbol of the Vancouver 2010 Games is the Inuksuk, and to celebrate the opening, we're going to build our own. You can too! Two beautiful books by artist and art educator Mary Wallace provide inspiration and guidance: I is for Inuksuk: An Arctic Celebration, and Make Your Own Inuksuk.

Perhaps you are wondering: what is an Inuksuk? (It's pronounced: Ee-nook-sook). Simply put, an Inuksuk is a stone tower. It can be very large, or very small, or any size in between. And though the shape most associated with the Inuksuk is a human-like form, it can take other shapes, too. For thousands of years, these towers have been built by people living in the Arctic.

Constructed out of available stones, and without adhesive material, an Inuksuk can stand for centuries. On the bare and vast Tundra, the Inuksuk acts as a visual guide, and as a way of communicating important information to others.
With its gorgeous, richly hued illustrations, I is For Inuksuk is a wonderful primer on the traditional Arctic way of life. Geared toward younger readers, this picture book uses the Inuksuk as a guide, showing the many ways in which it can be used. Grownup readers will learn a lot, too.

At the back of I is for Inuksuk, Mary Wallace illustrates and describes different kinds of Inuksuit (which is the plural form of Inuksuk). Stones stacked into different shapes convey different meanings. One points to the North Star in the winter sky. Another marks a good place to fish. And one means simply "Inuksuk expressing joy." "It is an Inuksuk that is built to express the joy of the place and the builder," writes Mary Wallace.

This page is an inspirational starting point as our family thinks about what kind of Inuksuk we'd like to build, and what we want it to say.

More detailed instructions and practical tips on how to build an Inuksuk can be found in the book Make Your Own Inuksuk, by the same author. She asks: "Is [your Inuksuk] a sign or symbol for something? Does it point the way or mark a special place? Perhaps it says something about you, your friends, or your family."

Traditional Inuksuit are made by fitting stones together in a very precise way, so that the finished structure can withstand winter storms and blowing winds. We might be able to rise to the challenge, depending on what kind of material we manage to scavenge at this time of year. Optionally, Wallace suggests using an adhesive to hold stones in place.

Though winter isn't the most promising season to search our yard for stones, our Inuksuk can be built using any rock-like material, including gravel, pebbles, bricks or broken cement. We have a small slab of leftover granite from a recent construction project that could be broken into pieces and stacked into a small outdoor Inuksuk. Or, we could construct an even smaller Inuksuk indoors, using pebbles gathered at the beach last summer.

What will our Inuksuk mean?

It can mean anything that the builder wants it to mean, and that is the beauty of this elemental form.

To mark this Olympic occasion, I'm leaning toward "Inuksuk expressing joy."

But these books have given me pause for thought. Perhaps this Inuksuk will be the first of many. Perhaps our family needs more Inuksuit in our lives, and around our house -- silent reminders of balance, strength, and our relationship with the natural world. A gift from the Arctic, and part of our home and native land.

How is your family celebrating the start of the Olympic Games?

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