Homes and Dwellings: Native American History for Kids

Native Americans are part of different tribes, and these tribes have each built and lived in very different kinds of homes. Native Americans, like all people still do, built homes to fit their lifestyles. The kind of home they traditionally built also depended on what resources they had available and the weather of the area where they lived. For instance, a home that was perfect for cold, snowy conditions wasn't right for a home in the desert.


Different tribes had very different lifestyles. The tribes that lived in the Great Plains tended to be nomads, meaning that an entire village would travel together, usually as they followed the buffalo they hunted for food. The tepee was developed by nomadic people because they needed homes that were easy to transport when they moved on to their next location. Other tribes settled in places that were close to easily accessible sources of food and water. These tribes built permanent structures for their homes.

Native American Tepee

Tepees are also known as tipis and teepees. They are very efficient portable homes. The typical Native American woman could set up a tepee for her family in about half an hour. The frame of a tepee consists of long rods that are far apart at the bottom but tied very tightly together at the top. The outside of the tepee was usually a very large buffalo hide. The snugness of the tepee meant that it would stay warm in the winter once everyone was inside and a fire was built in the middle. In the summer, the hide would be tied up so that air would flow into the bottom of the tepee.

Native American Longhouse

In the Northeast, the people of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, also known as the Iroquois, lived in longhouses. In fact, "Haudenosaunee" translates as "people of the longhouse." The Haudenosaunee people needed structures that could withstand harsh winters. Longhouses are permanent structures that are constructed in the shape of a rectangle with very long sides. The typical longhouse was about 18 feet wide and 80 feet long and was built out of wood and tree bark. The structure of the roof consisted of curved rods carved from local trees, and bark was laid across the roof and walls in an overlapping pattern, much like shingles are used today. The bark siding protected the inside of the building from snow, rain, and wind. Holes in the roof provided ventilation, and usually, there was a door at each end of a longhouse. Villages typically had many longhouses grouped together inside of a palisade, which is a type of fence. Each longhouse could be the home of as many as 20 people.

Native American Pueblo

The Hopi tribe, who lived in the Southwest, built and lived in pueblos. These were large structures, usually built into the sides of cliffs or inside of caves from adobe clay bricks. The Hopis made the bricks by mixing straw, grass, and sand with clay before letting them harden in the sunlight. After building walls from the bricks, the Hopi would then cover each wall with more adobe clay to strengthen it. Each year, they would add a new layer of clay. The homes were constructed vertically, with up to five rooms built of adobe clay bricks stacked on top of each other. The largest room would be on the bottom and the smallest at the top.

Native American Hogan

Another Southwestern tribe, the Navajo, built and lived in hogans. Hogans were also built using adobe clay, but they were very different from pueblos. The frame of each home was built out of wooden poles in the shape of a dome. It was then covered in adobe. The doors on hogans faced east, in the direction of the rising sun. A hole in the roof provided a way to vent the smoke from the fires the family would light inside the home.

Native American Wigwam

Algonquian tribes in what today is considered New England lived in homes called wigwams. Like their neighbors, the Haudenosaunee, their homes were covered in bark and built out of local trees. However, wigwams are smaller and easier to build than longhouses. Wigwams have a dome-like structure made out of trees that were bent into shape and tied together. The outside of the structure was then covered in bark.

Other Native American Homes

  • Chickee: The Seminole tribe of Florida built homes with a thatched roof to protect inhabitants from rain but left the sides open due to Florida's hot temperatures.
  • Igloos: Inuits built small homes with domed roofs out of blocks of ice. The interior of these homes protected the Inuit from frigid northern winters.
  • Plankhouses: These homes were built out of cedar and meant to house several families. They were built along the Northwest coast.
  • Wattle and Daub Huts: These homes were built in areas like modern-day Georgia and North Carolina by the Cherokee tribe. They were similar to chickees but had side walls and were insulated with clay.

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