Monday, March 23, 2015

Native Architecture Near Fort St. Joseph

        Across the river from Ft St. Joseph in the 18th Century, there lived many members of the Potawatomi tribe in a large village. Unlike the French who occupied Fort St. Joseph, the Potawatomi did not construct their homes with intentions of permanence. To best exploit the abundant natural resources around them, the Potawatomi and their homes moved with the changing of seasons.
        My name is Kaitlin Burton and I am an undergraduate at Western Michigan University and I am studying Anthropology. I chose to research the architecture of the Potawatomi’s homes, as I am very interested how the raw materials of the region were ingeniously used by indigenous peoples to thrive in the Great Lakes region.
        When I initiated my research on the architecture of Potawatomi wigwams, I was overjoyed to discover a wealth of resources. I was excited, as in the archeological record, evidence of Great Lakes Native American structures is quite scarce. This scarcity exists as the structures were constructed to last temporarily for a season, in accordance with a seasonal lifestyle. Further, the moist climate of the Great Lakes region, with its frequent freezing and thawing, quickly rotted building materials. In addition to examining the archeological data, I have been studying historical accounts, literature, and consulting a member of the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi Tribe.
        I have learned that the Potawatomi constructed three general living structures: summer homes, winter homes, and harvesting camp homes. In my research, I am exploring the architecture of the summer and winter homes, and my classmate Lakenia is researching architecture of the harvesting camp homes.
        The homes constructed by the Potawatomi were easily portable and quite durable against the weather. To construct the framework of the homes, bent saplings were fastened together in accordance with the architecture of a summer or winter home. Variant on the season, different materials shielded the home from the weather. In the centers of the homes were large fireplaces, and the outskirts of the home consisted of areas designated for storage, sleeping, and many other uses.  When resources were abundant in the summer, multiple families would occupy a single house. In the winter, the homes were smaller as families separated into their immediate organizations, conserving resources. Assembling these structures took very little time, yet they provided exceptional protection from the wide gamut of weather patterns of West Michigan.
A wigwam in Minnesota. Photo courtesy of Michael Nassaney

        With my classmate Erika, I will continue exploring the materials used in homes at Ft St. Joseph and the surrounding Potawatomi villages, construction techniques, designated areas of the homes, as well as many more fascinating aspects of life in the home during the 18th century in Niles, MI.


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