The first time I saw an Inuksuk (also spelled inukshuk, plural inuksuit) here in D.C., I happened upon it by accident. From a distance it looked like just a big pile of rocks. But because it was on the well-kept grounds of the Organization of American States, I approached it to get a better look. I then researched it to find out more because it was the first time I had ever encountered an inuksuk. The situation was different this time. I’d previously heard there as an inukshuk in the lobby of the Canadian Embassy, located at 501 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in downtown D.C., so I intentionally road there on this lunchtime bike ride to check it out.
Created by David Ruben Piqtoukun, an Inuit artist from Paulatuk in the Northwest Territories, the inukshuk at the Canadian Embassy was the first, and for many years the only one, in D.C. It was created in 1988. And it wasn’t until more than two decades later, in 2010, that the city’s second inuksuk was built. That inuksuk, the one on the grounds of the Organization of American States, was a gift from Canada. To date, they remain the only two inuksuit in the city.
An inukshuk can be small or large, and be comprised of a single rock, or several rocks of varying sizes and shapes balanced on each other. They are usually built from whatever stones are at hand, making each one unique. One of the things that impressed me the most about the Canadian Embassy inukshuk was how vital each and every rock is to the integrity of the piece. Even the smallest rock, as shown in the video below, is indispensable. Without it, the entire structure would fall.
The Canadian Embassy inukshuk depicts the form of a human being and is, therefore, also referred to as an inunnguaq. An embassy brochure explains that the “Inuit sculpture mimics the figure of a solitary man. The rocks are balanced one on top of the other, only the bottom two are fixed. Such Inukshuit, built by the people of Canada’s northernmost region, are used to mark trailheads and to pen caribou. When snowfall creates whiteout conditions, the Inukshuk serves as the only distinguishing feature between land and sky.” For these reasons, an inukshuk can be a welcome sight to a traveler, making it very appropriate to the embassy’s lobby, where it welcomes visitors.