Imagine walking across the vast tundra, and coming across a human-sized stone structure. Inukshuk (plural: inuksuit) means “likeness of a person” in Inuktitut (the Inuit language), and is a pile of (unworked) stones arranged by the Inuit into the shape of a human being. They are sometimes seen as representing the strength and determination of the Inuit people, who live in one of the Earth’s harshest climates and terrains.
Used for thousands of years, the Inuit make Inuksuit to identifying routes, to warn people of impending danger, to mark a place of respect, or to remember a good hunting or fishing spot. Most every Inuit constructs his own stone figure at some point, and they are a distinct feature in the Arctic region. They usually are around the height of a human being (5-7 feet tall). According to the Narwhal Inuit Art Gallery in London,
At one time the Inuit built Inukshuk in long lines on each side of the Caribou trail. The woman and children would hide behind the Inukshuk until the caribou herd came between the lines. The women and children would stand and start making noise and the caribou would start running in straight lines to avoid the people on both sides. The Inukshuk made it look like there were many people. The caribou would then run right to the end of the trail where they would be trapped by the hunters with bows and arrows.
Have your kids get inspiration from these inukshuk photos from around Canada’s most northern shores. Then try to make your own scene from the Arctic!
watercolor paints and paintbrushes
thick white paper
white & black, or grey poster/acrylic paint
sponges cut into rectangles/squares
rubbery shelf-liner (optional)
First, we will paint our Arctic background with the watercolors. Look at pictures of typical scenes and consider: snow-covered mountains, deep blue skies or the icy tundra, or even a night scene of aurora borealis.
The watercolor paint will dry quickly. When you’ve covered the whole paper, we will next stamp the “rocks” onto the scene to make our own inukshuk! Though the stones always represent a person, every stone figure is unique. You can cut the sponges into rectangles, squares, and circles.
If you have them, you can pinch the sponges with clothespins for an easy handle. Mix your black and white paint together on a plate, stamp the sponge into the paint, and then begin to build your inukshuk. One teacher trick to help keep the mess down is to cover the grey paint with a piece of rubber shelf-liner, so there is no splashing and less paint it absorbed (as in the picture).
“Pile” the stones to include a head, arms, body, and legs. We decided to outline the finished figures with black marker to help them pop out of the picture. Now you’ve made your own Arctic inukshuk!
Learn more: match the inukshuk to their shadows in this free downloadable/printable game.