Vancouver Olympics’ Logo

Every Olympic Games for the past 4 decades has had a distinctive logo. Vancouver chose their logo five years before the Games began so it would be ready for all the promotional material and flags, but even though this logo is a simple, artistic rendition, it’s meaning is not immediately apparent.

The image appears to be a universal-type view of a human, but that is not necessarily what it is.

Actually, the logo features a unique design of a very specific type of inukshuk, which is a traditional stone cairn used by Canada’s (Eskimo, Inuit) people. The inukshuk is a stone cairn marker used for generations by the Inuit to help guide themselves through the northern Arctic terrain. Those which are shaped in human form, as ersatz human “guides” are called inunnguaq “imitation of a person”. In Inuit, a singular person is an inuk. The plural of the ersatz guides is inunnguat.

The winning logo was chosen from 1,600 entries. It is called Ilanaaq (el la nawk), which means “friend” in the Inuktitut language and it was designed by Vancouver graphic designers Elena Rivera MacGregor and Gonzalo Alatorre.

This inukshuk is a highly stylized version of what is a practical pile of stones which Inuit use to mark trails and confer vital, permanent information on the harsh landscape of Canada’s far North. It is one of the few items likely to survive from season to season. Many times inukshuk come in groups, relaying specific information for various purposes.

Instead, this inukshuk is colored with most of the Olympic colors, which themselves represent the continents, but, in this case, minus the black. The design also reflects Vancouver, as for Expo 86, a renowned Inuit artist placed one in Vancouver’s Stanley Park, on English Bay, as a welcoming gesture of friendship for the world.

The current artists say that the different colors in their design of this all-inclusive symbol represent different regions of Canada: the green and blues symbolize coastal forests, mountain ranges and islands. The red represents Canada’s Maple Leaf and the yellow depicts its brilliant sunrises. They wanted it to be representative of the whole nation, as in many parts of it, there are NO maple trees!

And, it has a symbolic eagle’s head instead of a human’s.

Paul Okalik, premier of the Inuit* territory of Nunavut, (the northern third of Quebec province and far beyond to the Northwest regions on the Arctic Ocean), was pleased by the choice of an inukshuk as the Olympic symbol. “It shows … strength. Our inukshuk has been around a very long time. To be shown off to the rest of the world is very special for us.” Nunavut means “our Land”.

I personally think that it’s also reminiscent of the Neolithic art of Stonehenge, on the Salisbury Plain in England, near London, where the next Summer Olympic games will be held in 2012. So, it “bridges” the two events.

As with traditional Inuit inukshuk markers, each stone relies on each other for support of the overall structure. So, this choice is symbolic that ‘Together, strength, vision and teamwork are possible’.

Inuit* and also the Inuu* People (from N.E. Quebec and Labrador) depend on art for their main commercial livelihood. Online, and when visiting Vancouver, you can purchase miniature inukshuks and animal sculptures and serigraph prints made by Inuu and Inuit artists. But, be sure it comes with an Igloo tag which guarantees their authenticity as a work of art made by a Canadian native, First-Nations artist.

The identifying Igloo tag was created and registered as an official trademark in 1958 by the Government of Canada as a way to distinguish authentic far-north First Nation art from counterfeits. As the trademark is over 50 years old, the Igloo tag still bears the former word “Eskimo” rather than “Inuit”, which is used today in the Anglo world. The People call themselves “Inuit” and “Inuu” and ask that we call them by THAT name.

Buy from a trusted source like the official Vancouver Olympics’ website or Hudson’s Bay Company or the Galleries we list.

Inukshut vary in shape and size, and have deep roots in the Inuit culture. It speaks well that the Government of Canada, more than in any other Games, is making a concerted effort to include aboriginal peoples, as is finally mandated, by the International Olympic Committee’s statutes. This Games will be the first one where native peoples have been included all along in the planning and will have benefited economically.

The role of Indigenous peoples in the Olympic Movement finally became reality with the 1999 IOC adoption of Agenda 21: Sport for Sustainable Development, which includes the stated objective to “strengthen the inclusion of women, youth and Indigenous peoples in the Games.”

Gary Youngman, Consulting Director, Aboriginal Participation at the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games states, “One of our greatest challenges is that Indigenous participation is relatively new to the Olympic Movement – there is no template we can follow – no clear indicators for how we measure our success. Indigenous participation in past Games, such as Calgary and Salt Lake City, has focused primarily on ceremonies and cultural programs. We plan to go beyond that, to set the bar higher, with the hope that future Organizing Committees can be inspired and learn from our experience.”

Bravo! Vancouver.

* I have made the needed changes suggested by Jeff, from Northwestern University, in his comment below.

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One Response to “Vancouver Olympics’ Logo”
  1. Jeff Says:

    A nice overview of the Inukshuk and Innunguat… however, you’ve made one consistent error throughout.

    Inuit and Innu are two separate populations. The Inuit, who (generally) live above the treeline and throughout Nunavut are responsible for the Inukshuk. The singular of Inuit (person) is Inuk.

    The Innu, who live mostly in parts of Labrador and NE Quebec, are a separate group, with separate traditions that are sometimes seen as a blend of Inuit and Cree. They live in a different climate and geographical space than the Inuit.

    Jeff

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