Heritage Site / Ethnography Site / Dakota Nakota Lakota / Housing & Associated Structures

Article: Lodges

As described by First Boy - James Larpenteur Long, Fort Peck Assiniboine-Sioux, in The Assiniboine: From Accounts of the Old Ones Told to First Boy (James Larpenteur Long), edited by Michael Stephen Kennedy , University of Oklahoma Press, 1961, p 86-88(originally published as Land of the Nakoda by the Montana Writer Program in 1942)

The first white men known by most of the Assiniboine people were the Hudson's Bay Company traders far up in the north country in what is now Canada. Long before other white men came, they traded in cloth, blankets, beads, knives, and other articles. But before the agents of the Hudson's Bay Company came, the tribe depended entirely on wild game and nature to provide everything.

Lodges were then made from the tanned hides of matured buffalo cows. The number of finished hides required depended on the size of the lodge. An average lodge ranged from six to fourteen hides in size. Twenty hides made an extra-large lodge, usually owned by a well-to-do bachelor. There were not many of that size, not because the material was scarce, but because they were cumbersome to carry and to handle.

Red Feather gave this description of his bachelor lodge:

"Before I was married, my mother, with the help of other women, made a bachelor's lodge for my use. It contained nine-teen tanned hides and was very heavy. When the poles were set up and the covering was tied to the pole to be raised, it took three women to raise and set the covering in place. Of course, as you know, we men do not help with those things.

It was thought that I lived alone in the lodge. I occupied the whole of the back part as my lied, and the two sides were also supplied with bedding. But my cousins and friends who were also single were almost always with me, so usually several of us slept there every night.

My mother cooked for us and we ate in my large bachelor's lodge."

Lodges were erected with pine poles. A tripod was set up and the rest of the poles were added. The number of poles used depended upon the size of the lodge. The bottom of a lodge was secured to the ground by wooden pegs made from the choke-cherry tree. The front was laced together below and above the entrance with pins made from the same kind of wood. The butt ends of the pegs and pins were carved, and bands of bark in various widths were left intact as ornaments.

Assiniboine lodges always faced the south. Ventilation was regulated by two large flaps on each side of the smoke hole. Two extra poles governed the flaps from the outside. If there was smoke in the lodge on account of a change in the wind, one of the women went outside to regulate the draft.

A man never attended to anything in connection with the work in or about the lodge. If a man was seen helping a woman with any of her tasks, other men remarked to each other, "Since when has he become a woman? Hereafter leave him out at gatherings of the men, for he may start teaching us to make women's dresses."`

The regulation of the smoke draft was an old excuse for young unmarried women to go outside after dark to meet their sweet-hearts. If the girl knew that her lover was near her lodge, she would say, "It seems so smoky in here, perhaps the wind has changed. I must go out to adjust the flaps." And with that she attended to the chore and at the same time met the man. But, as she was not permitted to go very far away from the lodge, the two lovers stood close together and whispered to each other.

In winter the wall of a lodge was lined with tanned skins of the yearling buffalo for about four feet up from the floor. These skins were tanned like deer skins, the hair being removed first.

The lining of the lodges of well-to-do families who had guests a great deal was decorated with pictures of war exploits. Some-times these picture-stories told of the deeds performed by the host.

In these lodges several back rests were kept for special guests. They were made of peeled willows about three-fourths of an inch in diameter and two feet long. Laid horizontally, the willow sticks were laced with hide or some other material around the outside and down the center. The top of this framework was then hung from a three-pole tripod, so that the outside edges rested on the two front poles of the tripod. The third pole, in the back, regulated the slant of the back rest.

Those who took an active part in the social life of the tribe decorated their lodges with objects made by the women. These were sewed to different parts of the lodge on the outside. The edges of the smoke flaps were usually fringed with tassels cov-ered with porcupine quills. More quillwork in large pieces was sewed to the back and sides. Sometimes holes were bored through the tops of the smoke flap holes. Buckskin strings were then laced through and tied so that the two ends hung as a fringe.

Lodges of warriors were painted with pictures that showed the war record of the owner. Medicine men painted their lodges with symbols of their religion.

Occasionally, parents had a small lodge made for one of their children and gave a fee to a warrior who decorated it with pictures of one of his deeds.