What symbols are present in the poem "Inukshuk" by Daniel David Moses? How do these symbols enhance the themes of the poem?

One major symbol present in the poem "Inukshuk" is the native inukshuk structure, whose balancing rocks represent harmony and cooperation among the native people. The wind that flows through the space between these rocks symbolizes the influence of the colonizers. Although the structure has not fallen down, the narrator is nervous about strong winds, representing the fear of approaching colonialism.

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“Inukshuk” by Canadian poet, playwright, essayist, and teacher Daniel David Moses anticipates the northern expansion of Europeans into Canadian lands and the movement's destructive effects on indigenous culture. Moses himself is a Lenape-Delaware native american from the Six Nations lands in southern Ontario, Canada; the poem explores themes of colonialism,...

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“Inukshuk” by Canadian poet, playwright, essayist, and teacher Daniel David Moses anticipates the northern expansion of Europeans into Canadian lands and the movement's destructive effects on indigenous culture. Moses himself is a Lenape-Delaware native american from the Six Nations lands in southern Ontario, Canada; the poem explores themes of colonialism, disturbance, and conflict from an indigenous person's point of view. He uses symbols throughout the poem to highlight these themes.

The titular “Inukshuk” is the central symbol, personified as a sentry against outsiders. In the Inuit language, inukshuk means “one that looks like a person.” In the poem, the purpose of this structure is

so that they might take
you for something human

checking the migrations

“They” and “migrations” refer to the European settlers moving in from the south. An inukshuk is a tall formation of stones carefully fitted together and piled on top of each other to create a visible structure or landmark; inukshuks serve as markers for navigating in the snow or finding fertile hunting/fishing spots or sacred places. No adhesive (e.g., glue, cement) fuses the stones together. Instead, they stay up and together through balance. An inukshuk also symbolizes balance, harmony, friendship, and cooperation among people—all of which is disturbed later.

The blowing wind (“blue wind”) that the inukshuk resists symbolizes the forces of migration and change. The colonizing settlers are approaching to invade indigenous lands. The winds are worrisome and the poet wonders what they will bring. Instead of “lichen” (symbolizing nature) and “nothing” (purity), the niches of the inukshuk become

home to dreams. Most came
from the south, a few from
farther north—but what comes
out of their mouths comes from
nowhere you know about.

The dreams of frontiersman “from the south”—of new lands and expansion—actually are nightmares of the unknown and destruction. Moses uses synecdoche (“their mouths”) to symbolize the settlers and their foreign words and ideas. The wind is a hostile force that attacks the inukshuk and indigenous people;"wants at them—at least to stop each niche up.”

The blue whale, a symbol of living off the land, dreams a nightmare of colonialism and civil war between Europeans and Native Americans. It envisions

hunters who hunt only

each other—each after
the other’s snow white face

The white hunters are the European settlers who will attack indigenous people and then each other in civil war to capture land, property, and culture. The color white also symbolizes valuable property driving man’s destructive actions. Moses sarcastically admires

How beautiful frozen
flesh is! Like ivory,
like carved bone

No longer like pure and undisturbed snow, the color white is a symbol of death and greed.

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The title of the poem itself serves as a symbol. An "inukshuk" was a statue composed of balanced rocks frequently erected by the Inuit tribes in Arctic Canada. In Moses's poem, the inukshuk serves as a symbol for the culture and traditions of the indigenous people.

In this context, several additional symbols come to represent threats to the indigenous people and their lifestyle. Moses describes the inukshuk as "standing upright despite the blue wind that snow is still close to Polaris" Although the inukshuk resists the wind, Moses adds that: "still the wind does worry [the inukshuk] some." The wind serves as a symbol for the sinister spread of colonization across North America. Just like the wind, colonialism threatens to knock down the cultural pillars of the Inuit people.

Dreams also serve as a symbol in this poem; "now they're home to dreams," writes Moses of the niches in the statue. "Most came from the south, a few from farther north- but what comes out of their mouths comes from nowhere you know about." These are not the dreams of the Inuit people, but the dreams of the colonizers. These people harbor dreams of expanding their empire at the expense of the people who already live in the Arctic. The Inuit people cannot understand what "comes out of their mouths." This foreshadows the linguistic and cultural exclusion and terror that the indigenous people will face upon the arrival of the colonizers.

These symbols clarify the theme of the poem by highlighting the invisible, ominous nature of colonialism in the Arctic region prior to its arrival. Like wind or dreams, the indigenous people cannot yet see the threat of colonization, yet they feel its presence and do their best to brace themselves for its arrival.

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Daniel David Moses's poem "Inukshuk" is about the threat to the natural world—specifically the northernmost areas of Canada, Greenland, and Alaska—caused by the aggressive expansionist aims of civilization. The main theme in the poem is the conflict between the natural world and the relentless march and expansion of civilization. The threat of this expansion is symbolized by the "Great Blue Whale" described in the fifth stanza, that "swims through space / having nightmares about / hunters." This whale swimming away from hunters symbolizes the aggressive, survival-of-the-fittest mentality that seems to epitomize the relentless expansion of civilization.

The natural world in the poem is represented as inhospitable, as if to indicate its resistance to the expansionist impulses of those who aim to colonize it. For example, it is symbolized by a "blue wind" and a cold wind that "worries" and "wants to stop up each niche" between the stones of the eponymous inukshuk so that the dreams of the colonizers can not settle in those niches. There are also frequent references throughout the poem to how cold the natural world is. The word "snow" is used twice to symbolize this coldness, and there is also reference to "frozen / flesh."

The inukshuk itself is also used as a symbol in the poem to symbolize the danger posed by the "migrations" of civilization, and, at the same time, the vulnerability of the natural world. The inukshuk, a pile of stones, is personified in the poem and seems to come across as a lone sentinel, or guardsman, protecting the vulnerable northern territories. The speaker addresses the inukshuk as "you," and wonders how the inukshuk will "manage" the "migrations" from the south. Later in the poem, the speaker asks, again addressing the inukshuk, "How long can you stand it(?)" There is, in questions like this, an implicit threat that the inukshuk will not be able to withstand the "migrations." There is the threat that its stones will fall—and, with those stones, the sanctity of the natural world.

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