North American Tents

The peoples of Northern Canada and Alaska and the Indians of the Great Plains of the United States possess two types of tents, an older ridge tent belonging to the Inuit and conical tents found among Indians and some Inuit. The Inuit have developed specialized house types for winter, spring and autumn and summer conditions, so great is the contrast between the seasons.

The arched whale ribs of the winter houses at East Cape, Siberia spring from the outer wall and converge at a common point over one side of the entrance, where they are propped up by the jawbone of a whale. The outside of these summer houses was covered with walrus skins held in place by stone weights, driftwood and bone.

The forms of Inuit tents are clearly related to comparable types in Eurasia and in other parts of America. The sequence of Inuit tent development is connected with the timing of Inuit migrations across the northlands. Moving eastward from Alaska the domical, western conical, eastern conical, and ridge tents are encountered in that order.

The Inuit talent for eliminating non-essentials where materials, notably wood are scarce, is well illustrated by the progressive structural simplification of the ridge tent. The summer sealskin tent of the Iglulik is typical of the abbreviated ridge type; it has no ridge pole, end poles or side poles.

The eastern conical tent was probably borrowed from the Cree Indians who transmitted it to the Caribou Inuit, and they in turn passed it on northwards to the tribes of the Northwest Passage, where a shortage of wood restricted its use. The smoke hole was discontinued because the Inuit employed a relatively smokeless type of heating and this combined with the natural conditions resulted in its omission from the Inuit conical tent.

The conical tent developed around the requirements of efficient combustion in a cold windy climate. The tent serves as a combustion chamber, chimney, and wind break for the central fire in addition to functioning as a dwelling.

Some tribes lived in the teepee throughout the year; others, notably the village Indians, used it only occasionally when on the hunt. Most of the groups who utilized the teepee as a secondary dwelling were agriculturalists and their use of the teepee coincided with periodic migrations out across the open country to hunt buffalo.

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