Traditional Native American Dwellings Part 2

Continuing from ourlast post, here are more types of traditional Native American dwellings…

Wigwams

Similar in appearance to the teepee, the wigwam was particular to the American Indians of the Northeast USA and Canada, especially the Algonquin Indians and the Wampanoag. The word “wigwam” translates literally to “house” and it was also called a wetu or a birchbark lodge. The Algonquin (Omamiwinini) farmed and lived in settled villages and built entire villages of wigwams. Unlike teepees, wigwams were not portable.

The Wigwam The Wigwam, a Canadian Scene at Penllergare by John Dillwyn Llewelyn


(Image: The Met – Public Domain)

As the region was covered in trees, wigwams were built from wooden lumber and branches, with wood or stretched tree bark used for the walls. They were sturdy, provided good protection from the elements, and had just one room. The roof was either domed or cone-shaped. These structures could last as long as a year before being rebuilt.

 

Grass Houses & Wattle-and-Daub Houses

Wichita Grass House Wichita Grass House

Grass Houses were built by Native Americans in the south of the Great Plains. They resembled a large wigwam but were made of a wooden stick frame and were covered with woven prairie grass. Into a beehive shape. They could be up to 40 feet tall.  These were used by the farming Plains Indians who lived in villages, including the Hidatsa, Osage, Omaha, Pawnee, Dakota, and Wichita.

Similarly, some tribes of the southeast (Creek and Cherokee) created similar houses of wattle-and-daub. These were known as “asi”, which was the Cherokee word for this type of structure. They were made of woven plant material (bark, rivercane, sticks, vines) and covered with clay or plaster. These homes were sturdy but difficult to build. They offered little protection from cold weather, so were usually found in the warmer southern regions.

Earth Houses

Navajo Hogan Navajo Hogan

Numerous tribes created homes from the earth. Ideal for people who sought a permanent residence in an unforested area, they offered a haven from harsh weather and wind. They included:

  • Earth Lodges (Sioux, Pawnee)
  • Hogans (Navajo)
  • Pit Houses (West Coast and Plateau Indians)
  • Sod Houses (Subarctic Alaska Natives)

These were all semi-subterranean homes. They were dug into the earth, creating basement-like living areas with a domed mound as a ceiling. This usually featured a wooden frame that was covered with reeds or earth. In sub-Arctic regions, the frame could be made from whalebone.

 

Wikiups

Apache Wikiup, 1903 by Edward S Curtis Apache Wikiup, 1903 by Edward S Curtis

Also called brush shelters, gowas, and lean-tos, these temporary dwellings were used by numerous tribes as a small, tent-like structure. They were used for sleeping only and comprised a simple conical wooden frame covered with branches, grass, and leaves. Easy to assemble from available materials, these were used by the Apache and many other nomadic tribes.

Igloos

Building an Igloo, 1904 Building an Igloo, 1904

Alaska Natives (as well as native peoples of northern Canada and Greenland) traditionally lived in igloos since at least the 1500s (igloo is an Inuit word for “house”). These were made of blocks of padded ice and snow placed in a spiral pattern. Usually dome-shaped, the igloo had a partially buried tunnel entrance. There were tiny ventilation holes in the overall structure.

Even in sub-zero temperatures, the temperature inside the igloo could be remarkably warm, with tightly packed snow used to insulate against the wind outside. The body heat of the inhabitants and animal skins were used to keep warm. Smaller igloos were temporary structures, while large igloos were multi-family residences.

Plank Houses

Yurok Plank Houses, 1924 Yurok Plank Houses, 1924

Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest Coast (including the Chinook and Yurok) built permanent wooden plank houses. These were ideal to shelter from and withstand rainy, cold weather conditions. They suited only tribes that settled in one place.

Plank houses were ideal in areas with very tall trees, and they were often constructed from cedar which was attached to a wooden frame. This type of home suited coastal fishing tribes; due to their permanence, they did not suit the migrating tribes who hunted caribou and other game.

Most modern Native Americans live in western-style homes, however, some Navajo elders continue to live in hogans on the Navajo reservation.

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