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[ From the editor ]


Rock of Ages


A


s you’ll learn on page 27, it would be in- correct to say, “I’d like to launch my ca-


noe, but there are so many inukshuks lining the shore I fear for the safety of my shins.” As plausible as this sentence is, the correct plural of inukshuk is inuksuit. Pluralizing inukshuk was once something


you rarely had to do, but enough would-be adventurers now so enjoy piling rocks into human-like figures that the lonely inukshuk has become a plurality. Killarney Provincial Park in Ontario has


reacted by declaring them granite non grata. The backlash really got going when an inukshuk was adopted by the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games. Anti-corporate wil- derness travellers declared inuksuit to be unfashionable eyesores. What’s the problem, you ask? The in-


uksuit were confusing hikers in Killarney, where trails are marked with stone cairns. Other objections are ecological in nature (the rocks are habitat for critters that are entitled to a cold, wet place to live) and cul- tural (southern inuksuit represent a co-opt- ing of Inuit culture). To these I add the tragic tale of how


they slowed my progress down Quebec’s Noire River. On day two we began noticing some-


what organized piles of rubble peeking out from rocky points. My trip mate—let’s call him Destructor—decided they had no place on the river and vowed to eradicate them. The inuksuit ballooned in number as we paddled and Destructor began criss-cross- ing the river on an increasing frequency. Our pace slowed as he tried to squeeze blood from stones. As Destructor showed, the real menace


is that inuksuit might divide the paddling community into two groups: one that likes to create while they recreate and another that won’t abide signs of a human presence near portage landings. But recent events


6 EARLY SUMMER 2009


show paddlers can’t afford to be fragment- ed like feuding religious sects. To see why, consider John and Jim


Baird. John Baird is Canada’s minister re- sponsible for transportation. He’s the man who has dismantled the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA), a 126-year-old law that protected both waterways and each Canadian’s right to paddle them. It was a law that said rivers were important for six generations of Canadians, and now it doesn’t. In the next issue we’ll have a full report


on the effort to overturn this case of legis- lative laxative, an effort that might just be turning into an awakening of the politi- cal power of paddlers. For now, we might learn something from the other Baird. Last summer Jim Baird and his brother


Ted paddled the Kuujjua River on Victoria Island in Canada’s high Arctic. There they saw real inuksuit and stone cairns, some 300 years old, that had been built not be- cause of an excess of ego or spare time,


Standing guard over the places we paddle,


Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. PHOTO: JIM BAIRD


but because they served important func- tions in a severe land. At Minto Inlet they stopped at a squat,


man-sized cairn that housed a message from a party that had passed that way 157 years ago while searching for the Franklin Expedition. The Bairds left the cairn standing of


course. Victoria Island isn’t the sort of place that tolerates those who act rashly on the land or dismiss the past. The law John Baird knocked down was


only 31 years younger than that stone cairn. By pointing to a temporary downturn in the business cycle as the reason the NWPA had to go, Baird demonstrated all the wisdom of a pile of rocks, but none of the steadiness. Until the NWPA is reinstated, inuksuit


may be the only things standing guard over the places we paddle. Perhaps we should embrace them as our own, and consider them new recruits in an army of resistance


gathering where they are most needed. » IAN MERRINGER


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