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Toronto Airport’s Inunnguat Are Sending the Wrong Message

The three figures you see here are on display at Toronto Pearson International Airport. They are examples of inuksuit, stacked stone markers that are a traditional part of the Inuit culture. When one represents a human figure, it's called inunnguaq. The shape of each inuksuk has a specific meaning, and were often used to give information to travelers. These inunnguaq were commissioned for the Toronto airport to welcome travelers to Canada with native art.   

As the CBC reports, the federal government commissioned these particular artworks back in 1963, from an Inuk artist named Kiakshuk. Save for a brief stint in storage, they’ve been standing near Terminal One since then, in these same positions. The concern about them is new, and was spurred when CBC Nunavut posted photos of the statues on Facebook, prompting a near-immediate response from Inuk readers. (“That kind of inukkuk/inuksuk signifies a bad [omen], a place of horrible death,” one, Jessie Kaludjak, wrote.)

That's the last thing you want to signal at an airport! How did it happen? Atlas Obscura has updates on the story with an explanation. It's cautionary tale that reminds us how easy it can be to misinterpret traditions from cultures we don't know enough about. In another example, the article has many links to the CBC. In an early CBC report, the works are called inukshuks, while a later story uses inuksuit, the proper plural of the Inuit word inuksuk.    

(Image credit: George Socka)


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"Kiakshuk, chose and shaped the stones to make one giant inunnguaq, and numbered them to aid in its reconstruction. Somehow, after it was shipped to the airport and rebuilt, it became three smaller ones instead, with raised arms."

You can tell PR spin when the explanation contains "somehow."
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