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Native American Houses: Facts & Types

Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

The creativity and industrious nature of Native Americans can be witnessed in the design of their homes. Over a dozen types of Native American houses exist, and in this lesson, we will look at well-known Native American house types.

An Introduction to Native American House Designs

Did you know that at one point, all Native American homes were referred to as teepees or wigwams because of colonists' misunderstanding of Native American languages? Native Americans have always been ingenious when building homes in places than many would consider uninhabitable, and each style bears a unique name. From the teepees made by the Plains tribes to the adobe cliff houses once built by the Anasazi, Native American homes fit the needs of the tribe. If a tribe was nomadic, then homes needed to be easy to put together and take down. Likewise, if a tribe was stationary, most likely tribes that were involved in farming, they built permanent homes designed to withstands years of use. With the exception of the Navajo, who still build hogans, the tribes we'll discuss here no longer use these structures as homes. Since dozens of Native American home types exist or existed, however, we will focus on a variety of Native American homes, discussing them in terms of temporary and permanent structures.

Temporary and Portable Native American Homes

Teepees

Teepees were used by Plains Indians
teepees

Plains Indians lived in teepees, portable homes made of poles and animal hides. They were efficient home for the Plains Indians because they stayed cool in the summer and warm in the winter. A doorway was cut into the hide that could be closed shut or folded open depending on the weather conditions. Plains Indians continuously moved as they followed herds of buffalo, thus a home that was easy to put up and take down was necessary.

Wigwams

Wigwam
wigwam

A wigwam was a house built by the Algonquian Indians in the Northeastern parts of America. The word 'wigwam' means 'house' in several Algonquian languages. Made of wood and woven birch bark, a wigwam stood around ten feet tall and was shaped like a dome, cone or rectangle. The birch bark or other materials, such as animal hides or blankets, used to cover the wigwam's frame was attached using rope or cord.

Algonquian groups used wigwams to live in farming settlements during the growing and harvesting season. A wigwam was easy to build and to move, which is why they made sense for tribes that moved among different regions during the year.

Plank Houses

Pacific Northwestern tribes built plank houses, which were cabin-like buildings without windows. Many were constructed from red cedar trees that were cut down and shaped into planks. The planks were then used to build the flooring, roof, and walls.

Plank houses were built in this region due to its wet springs and winters, when people needed indoor sleeping and working arrangements. Tribes who relied on fishing for their livelihood built plank houses; for example, Pacific Northwestern tribes such as the Chinook, Clatsop, and Yurok built plank houses along rivers. Many of these homes housed several families and measured up to 50 feet long; however, some plank houses reached over 350 feet long!

During the summer months, when the tribes moved from their winter locations, they left the homes.The homes were often reconstructed in the following winter.

Permanent Native American Homes

Kiich Houses

A Kiich house was a semi-subterranean home built by the Yuma and Serrano Indians in California. The tribes built Kiich houses during the winter using the Yucca plant, willow sticks, and brush. The willow branches were made into poles for the frame, which were covered with brush that was tied down using cord fibers from the Yucca plant.

These Native American tribes built Kiich homes because they suited their environment. They were easy to build and could be adapted to winter conditions. A winterized Kiich house was built several feet into the ground, which helped to keep the home warm and night and cool during the day.

Hogans

Hogan House
hogan

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