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Native Housing

A Blackfoot tipi near Lethbridge, Alberta in 1910. Native housing methods were admirably suited to the western Canadian climate and their own unique social structures. Because of their nomadic lifestyle, the Blackfoot and Cree peoples constructed lodgings that could be easily transported, and used either buffalo or caribou hide as housing materials. In the most typical instance, up to eighteen long poles would be used to form a conical framework over which the hide would be stretched. Two openings near the top provided ventilation and another flap near the ground served as entranceway. The fireplace was situated in the center of the tipi.

Contact with Europeans led the Blackfoot tribes to construct larger tipis. The introduction of the horse meant that larger loads could be transported by travois, and the single-skin tipi was abandoned in favour of one made of the skins of up to six or eight animals, which would provide shelter for an equal number of people. By the early nineteenth century, the average tipi was made of over twelve skins, and provided shelter for up to ten people. Women were the ones who made, maintained and owned the tipis.

The nineteenth century missionaries encouraged many natives to built and live in log houses. The ownership of private property and the stability of European housing was thought to encourage Natives to adopt western agricultural methods, as well as entirely new (and better, the Europeans thought) world view. Although many Natives continued to build tipis well into the twentieth century, however, the near-extinction of the buffalo and the subsequent lack of hides led to a decrease in this traditional mode of Native housing.

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