Native American Home Styles

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

If you needed to find a new home, what type of dwelling would you look for? A private house, a condominium, an apartment, a castle, a tiny home, a townhouse? Many, many choices. 

Way, way before Europeans arrived in North America, Native American Indians lived in homes suited to their resources, climate, and lifestyles. They didn’t have the luxury of options. 

Some tribes were agricultural and wanted houses that lasted a long time. Others were nomadic, requiring homes that were portable and easy to construct, such as the tepee, which is a conical tent covered with animal skins. I think the tepee is the only type of home people associate with Native Americans, but there are so many others. 

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 For example, the Iroquois and some Algonquian tribes in my state of Wisconsin lived in longhouses. Longhouses were good for people who intended to stay in the same place for a long time. They are large (up to 60 meters long) and take a lot of time to build and decorate. They are made of wooden frames, which are covered with sheets of birchbark, and can house as many as 60 people, usually extended families. 

Adobe houses (also known as pueblos) are Native American house complexes in a modular style that were built by the Pueblo, Zuni and Hopi tribes who lived in the desert climates of New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. 

Adobe pueblos are multi-story houses made of adobe (a type of clay) and each adobe unit is home to one family, like a modern apartment. The whole structure, which can contain dozens of units, is often home to an entire extended clan, with its access via a doorway or entryway through the roof by ladder.

Adobe houses are good homes to build in a warm, dry climate where adobe can be easily mixed and dried. These are homes for farming people who have no need to move their village to a new location.

Chickees (also known as chickee huts, stilt houses or platform dwellings) were used primarily in Florida by tribes like the Seminole Indians. Chickee houses consisted of thick posts supporting a thatched roof and a wooden platform raised several feet off the ground. They did not have any walls.

Chickees are good homes for people living in hot, swampy climates. The long stilts keep the house from sinking into marshy earth, and the raised floor keeps swamp animals like snakes and alligators out of the house. Walls are not necessary in a tropical climate because it never gets cold.

North America is a big continent with diverse terrain and weather, to which Native Americans adapted quite well with their dwellings.

Now, most Native Americans live in modern housing like you and me. One exception is the adobe houses; some Pueblo families (such as those in Taos, New Mexico) still live in the same adobes that their ancestors lived in generations ago.  If you go to the Southwest, many modern homes are built in the adobe style in the same adobe clay color. 

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