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build a Pit House

The majority of the Secwepemc people lived a nomadic lifestyle, moving from place to place as food became available in different areas. To live comfortably in their environment, the Secwepemc lived in winter and summer lodges. They lived in permanent pithouses, s7istcen (winter homes), in the winter and portable lodges that resembled teepees in the summer months.

Winter villages were located by main waterways. For example some of the Secwepemc lived near the banks of the Fraser River, Columbia River, and the North Thompson and South Thompson Rivers. Most village sites had about three or four s7istcen. Some villages were known to have many more.

Winter Village by Dave Seymour

These homes were made by the extended family groups and sometimes housed up to two families. Others were noted to hold multi-families and these were larger. Some ranged from five to twenty-five metres in diametre. Pits were one to two metres deep. Everyone was involved in digging, removing soil from the pit, gathering and preparing other building materials. Removed soil would later be used for the roof covering.

Even the placement of homes would have to be well thought out so that there would be no unnecessary leakage or flooding. House posts would be gathered and larger poles would be used for the frame. Posts would be bound together using wet rawhide so that when it dried it would tighten and secure the structure in place. Many other smaller poles would be used to cover the framework. The roof of the pithouse was made of a combination of cedar bark and sod that provided both insulation and camouflage. The sod also had plants growing in it that soaked up water when it rained outside.

Careful consideration was placed on the location of entranceways. Separate entrances were required for both men and women. The women's entrance was low, facing the water; this entrance purified the pit house and made water packing easier. The men's entrance was a hole on top of the pit house and a log with steps and hand-holds carved into it provided a ladder for the men to climb in and out. The log ladder pointed east toward the sunrise which also signified the cycle of life. The roof entrance also served as the smoke hole.

The main hearth fire was built just below the roof opening. A winter home would take about one day to construct with the aid of the people from the village. Homes were said to belong to the women and passed on to their daughters. After it was built everyone would feast in the house that they built together.


Activity: Research

Imagine what it was like to live in a C7îstkteñ. Would you prefer to enter the winter home through the ladder or the side entrance?

Review archeological records and note where, how many, and size of any pithouse depressions. (Indicates where homes were located.) Even after years of erosion is it important to know the location of these sites? Throughout the different eras the winter homes changed in size and shape.

Important Information to Remember:


  • The Secwepemc people spent the winters in their winter villages.
  • Winter villages were always located by main waterways.
  • Pit houses were built by extended families and often held two or more families.
  • Digging sticks and baskets were used to dig out pits two metres deep and from five to twenty-five metres wide.
  • Large posts were used for the main structure. They were tied together with rawhide.
  • Smaller poles were used to cover the structure and then dry grass was laid over the poles.
  • There were two entranceways. One was a doorway which faced the east. The other was a roof opening which was used as a fire hole and an entranceway.
  • A log notched into a ladder was used to enter through the roof