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Inukshuk

Thanks to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Committee ‘Inukshuk’ has become a household word (if it wasn’t already). Linguistic borrowing aside, the choice is a remarkable example of how a regional Inuit symbol instantly became a national symbol representing all of Canada. Still, if an aboriginal image is a suitable icon for the Olympics, I wonder why something from a local Coast Salish community couldn’t have been chosen.

In addition, note the words used in the press release to describe the appropriateness of the Inukshuk as an emblem for the games:

… the Vancouver 2010 emblem shows the deep connection between Canadians and their breathtaking environment. The emblem features five stone-like formations depicted in vibrant colours found in both the natural features of the Vancouver-Whistler Games host region and across Canada. Green and blues represent coastal forests, mountain ranges and spectacular islands. The red is for Canada’s signature maple leaf and the gold evokes images of the brilliant sunrises that paint the Vancouver skyline and snow-capped mountain peaks.

Beyond the age-old and popular notion that native people are part of the ‘natural’ environment around the rest of us, the iconography is, as Victor Turner (1969) might say, multivocal. The rituals to which this symbol will be applied are appearing now (a one hour public TV event for its unveiling!?) and will continue to appear over the next five years. Keep watching for the ways in which this symbol will be used, manipulated, and asked to stand for dozens of new things.

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5 Comments

  1. jenn wrote:

    I agree with the mis-representation of an Inuit symbol. Now protected by strict copyright laws the 2010 symbol has been appropriated by the elites who have deemed it ‘marketable’. This is not what art even is, which deeply concerns me. Therefore, this is yet another example of how a pan-Indian identity becomes created and re created through history. Therefore, if the Inukshuk is part of ‘their’ identy, it can become part of ours. Not a step forward in regards to a Eurocentric view of any culture. Therefore, the language, as well as symbolic value has, in my view, been mis-appropriated in this sense.

    For who is the symbol for? Marketing companies? Were Inuit invited to the table?The logo also generates profits through merchandising. “Companies such as Bell Canada, Royal Bank and the Bay — who pay to be official Games sponsors — earn the right to use the symbol”. http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/1114275787691_13/?hub=TopStories

    There are ‘Arctic Games’ that occur in Nunavut. Are they becoming undermined through the appropriation of the symbol?

    Sunday, November 13, 2005 at 10:51 pm | Permalink
  2. Jenn … interesting thoughts on copyright playing into this. I suppose copyright and marketing go hand-in-hand … I had not considered that connection in this light. Your points about pan-Indianism are also well taken. Thanks for the story link.

    Monday, November 14, 2005 at 1:35 pm | Permalink
  3. jenn wrote:

    Thanks for the reply, I was thinking about this some more over the past few. . . . it came to me that the symbolic value, or should I say ‘essence’ of an Inukshuk has been appropriated by the Olympic companies. ‘They’ have re-defined it – as you have quoted from the press release.

    Tuesday, November 15, 2005 at 10:17 pm | Permalink
  4. jenn wrote:

    FYI – found this interesting quote

    “To memorialise the Canadian soldiers
    killed in 2002 in Afghanistan, an Inuit style
    inukshuk was built near Kandahar. In this way,
    the Inuit imaginary projects on the broad global
    screen and fuses with imagery of other ancient
    cairns across other ancient deserts” (2004).

    NANCY DOUBLEDAYA. FIONA D. MACKENZIE & SIMON DALBY

    Reimagining sustainable cultures: constitutions, land
    and art. The Canadian Geographer

    Tuesday, November 15, 2005 at 11:40 pm | Permalink
  5. Wow … fascinating connections … perhaps we need to evaluate the Inukshuk as a symbol co-opted for general Canadian culture earlier than the Olympics.

    Monday, November 21, 2005 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Vancouver radio is buzzing today with talk — mainly complaints — about the Vancouver Olympic Committee’s eight minute ’show’ boosting Vancouver and Whistler in the closing ceremonies of the Torino Olympics. Like the initial questions about the appropriateness of an Inuit Inukshuk (and here) as the logo for the 2010 Olympics, talk radio hosts and callers note that, at best, the show in Torino only confirmed to the world that Canada is a land of ice and snow, with snowmobiles, and ice fishers. Some complain that there was almost no Vancouver-Whistler specific content. Sure, Vancouver-area First Nations people offered a few words at the beginning but the circus performers were actually from Montreal. Callers agree that it is Canada’s Olympics, but many are asking why the focus in the Torino show was not directly on the host cities. […]

  2. […] My very first blog post was about the inappropriate choice of the Inuit Inukshuk as logo of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. Now, the Vancouver Olympic Committee (Vanoc) has unveiled the Olympic Mascots … and I am intrigued. The three mascots represent a variety of symbols of British Columbia. (They’re, perhaps, a mashup of symbols.) There’s Sumi, with a Salish name: “Sumi is an animal spirit who lives in the mountains of British Columbia. Like many Canadians, Sumi’s background is drawn from many places. He wears the hat of the orca whale, flies with the wings of the mighty thunderbird and runs on the strong furry legs of the black bear.” […]