Native American Types of Housing - dummies

By Dorothy Lippert, Stephen J. Spignesi

Part of Native American History For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Native Americans (called Indians or American Indians in historic times) lived in several types of housing, all of which depended on the resources and climate of the area. The most important types of Native American domiciles were

  • Plankhouses: The design of the plank house is long and rectangular, with a sloped, inverted “V” roof. Like a barn without a wide door at the end.

  • Longhouses: Longhouses needed to be long, as they were designed to house several families, each of which needed its own sleeping and storage bunks and spaces, as well as its own central fire. There was a hole in the roof above each fire, and this would tell visitors how many families lived in a particular longhouse. Some longhouses were big enough to house a hundred (or more) people.

  • Hogans: A special structure among the Navajo. There are a variety of designs depending on its purpose. Modern hogans are often round or multi-sided and only have one room inside. Many hogans are only used for ceremonial purposes. Traditionally, the door faces east.

  • Tipis: The fifteen poles of a traditional tipi each stand for a character, virtue, trait, or strength and, thus, the structure is held in high esteem by Natives. The exterior of the tipi is made from hides. Flaps controlled by poles or ropes allow a fire to be built inside the dwelling and also serve as a ventilation source. During cold winters, an interior lining is often used for additional warmth. The tipi’s cone shape is remarkably stable in high winds, as long as the support poles are securely anchored.

  • Chickees: Chickees have no walls, but that’s okay, since the climate where they were invented was always warm. The original chickees had a thatched roof that was supported by logs. Today’s modern versions use either steel or wood support beams and a wood or shingled roof. Some Native American chickees had a raised floor, allowing sleeping and comfort off the ground, but the sides were still wide open.

  • Wigwams and wickiups: A round, domed structure. It usually has flexible wooden poles, which are either completely arched or gathered together at the top. It is usually covered in thatch.

  • Lean-tos: Two stakes were placed in the ground several feet apart. The stakes were often anchored with vines hammered into the ground. Two long sticks were then affixed to the top of each stakes, extending on an angle and likewise secured to the ground. A covering was then placed across the two diagonal sticks. Hides could be used, as well as thatch or bark. The front and side remained open, and the angular design shed both wind and rain.

  • Igloos: A cold-climate domed shelter built with blocks of snow, the floor of an igloo is below ground level and is commonly the hole that remains after the snow blocks used to construct the shelter are removed. The blocks are placed in a spiral around the hole, with each one being shaped to not only fit, but to create a sloping, continually rising wall. The spiral begins to create a dome, until the igloo is a complete enclosure.