By Tim Malchoff
Traditional Sugpiaq or Eyak temporary shelters and housing styles were responses to the extremes of local weather conditions and family needs.
1. What were the different types and materials used for shelters and housing?
2. How did the weather affect the housing site and type?
3.Where were the housing and shelters built?
b. Emergency Shelters?
“In long distance of traveling they had the ‘muskoks’ they made. The fire was built right outside. They were built out of moss and old limbs from the trees. They put branches across after they put on the moss, and they would layer it with more moss and branches. They looked for young trees. They looked for a comfortable place to build with an area they can see around the places. They stayed in the muskoks for 2-3 days just watching and hunting from the same area.” -Simeon Kvasnikoff Sr., Port Graham
The traditional houses and shelters of the Chugach people were built from materials readily available. There were three types of traditional houses; sod houses, longhouses and shelters. Each served the various cultural groups. One type of house was the Ciklluaq/barabara which was a subterranean sod house built by the Sugpiat people typically used as the main house for a family. These houses were made from materials readily found in their surroundings. Driftwood was used to frame the house and then layered with grass, moss and mud. The windows were made from bear intestine and a small hole was left on top of the house to allow the smoke out from the fire built in the middle. The houses were built to fit as many people in one family.
Another type of traditional house found in the Chugach Region was a longhouse made by the Eyak people. According to Wrangell, 1839, he describes “They lived in huts built of beams and on the sides of which separate places are divided off for each family, but in the middle a fire is made for all together. Thus from two to six families are accustomed to occupy in common a single shed.” The longhouse was built out of planks covered with bark and would have a distinct characteristic on the door of an eye painted black and red. Potlatch houses were built the same as the houses but taller and in front would be a post with a carving representing either Raven or Eagle moiety that it represented.
The ancestors were nomadic people in search of food, shelters were important. The traditional shelters were called muskoks or kawartarwik in Sugt’stun. Typically the kawartarwik were built on trails in the woods or on the beach. These shelters were typically made out of spruce tree limbs for the base and then covered in layers by grass, moss, and mud then covered once more with the spruce tree limbs. The shelters were built in strategic locations close to a fresh water supply and abundance of food sources. The kawartarwik were meant to be a place of rest and to camp for the night. Some kawartarwik were sometimes used by villagers who would stay while hunting, fishing or gathering. These shelters were landmarks in between villages and sometimes used to meet each other to relay messages. The Chugach people made sure to keep the shelters in shape the next person traveling would have a place to stay. It is also passed down how they would be sure to leave a seal oil lamp clean and upside down for the next person to use.
The information gathered to create this kit is based on the traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) of Elders from the Chugach Region communities. Even as ancestors have passed away the stories and information shared is still alive and helped contribute to creating the lesson activities in the Traditional Housing and Shelters heritage kit. Enjoy.
Nick Tanape on "Temporary Shelters"
This Sod House
Sod house: A 4th grade lesson on pioneers and erosion
Completed Plank House
Building a Native American Longhouse
• Climate Change
• Food From the Sea
• Honoring Eyak
• Our Water
• Traditional Food & Recipes
• Traditional Housing & Shelters
• Traditional Place Names
• Traditional Transportation
• Traditional Weather Forecasting
• Additional Heritage Kits
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