How to Build a Longhouse for a School Project

The Iroquois Confederation consisted of Native Americans of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora nations. The people of the Iroquois Confederation lived in longhouses made of birch and elm trees, saplings and bark. The longhouse was so significant to the Iroquois people that they were also known as Haudenosaunee, which means "people of the longhouse." To build a realistic 1:24 scale model of an Iroquois longhouse for a school project, gather an armload of sticks and twigs and follow the instructions below.

Gather materials. Iroquois used birch and alder trees for longhouse frames and elm bark for longhouse covering. If you can, gather your sticks and bark strips from these types of trees. If birch, alder, and elm are not available in your area, use any type of stick that is pliable (that will bend without breaking) and thin bark that can be removed in strips. Collect bark in three-inch wide strips. You will need to collect enough bark strips to cover your longhouse. (If you fill a five-gallon bucket, you will have plenty.) Potting soil is available where plants are sold.

Prepare your base. Use a box at least one foot by three feet. Cut the sides of the box to three to four inches high. Fill your box to the top with potting soil, patting it down firmly. Paint the outside of the base brown or green.

Set your posts. Longhouses ranged from 15 to 20 feet in height. Use your thickest sticks for the posts and cut seven centre posts (the sticks) to 12 inches. Cut 14 exterior posts to 10 inches. Split one end of each post at one end to form a "Y"(simulating a forked stick which the Iroquois would have used). Place the longer posts with the "Y" end up every five inches in a row in the middle of your base by inserting them three inches into the potting soil and pressing the soil firm. Place the exterior posts in rows parallel to the centre row. Line the posts up with the centre posts and insert them into the soil three inches deep, pressing the soil firm. You should now have three rows of parallel posts with the taller ones in the centre.

Place three 30-inch poles (sticks) into the forked sticks so that you have three parallel roof support poles, one atop each row of poles. The Iroquois tied these poles in place with rope made from wood fibres but you can tie them in place with brown thread.

Tie three more 30-inch poles to each long side of the longhouse with thread, spacing them evenly from top to bottom.

Cut six poles to nine inches. Use them to construct the upper part of the frame on the narrow sides of the longhouse. Tie one pole to the top of the frame on each side. Leave three inches on the bottom for framing in the doorways and place two more poles on each narrow end, space evenly and tie in place.

Frame in the doorways. Iroquois longhouses typically had a door in each end. Cut four poles so they will reach the top of the frame when you have inserted them one inch into the soil. Insert the poles into the soil to form the sides of a doorway in the middle of each narrow end of the longhouse and tie them to the top pole. Cut smaller poles to span the distance between the doorway and the sides of the longhouse and tie them halfway between the top of the doorway and the ground.

Construct the roof frame. Longhouses were made with peaked or domed roofs. You can make either. For a peaked roof, cut poles to fit from the centre forked poles to the exterior forked poles and tie one pole from each exterior pole to the corresponding centre poles. For a domed roof, flex one long pole for each set of posts so that they are tied to each exterior post, with the centre of the pole tied to the centre post. Tie a long pole (30 inches) across each side of the roof lengthwise to strengthen the roof frame and provide a place to attach the covering bark.

Cut three-inch strips of bark with a utility knife for shingles. The strips should range in length from two inches to six inches. Poke holes in each corner of the strips with your knife.Tie them on your longhouse frame starting from the top and overlapping them vertically and horizontally. Leave three to five holes in the roof and cover the rest of the longhouse, leaving only the doorways open. The shingles don't need to be even lengthwise, as long as they overlap and cover the entire longhouse.

Attach vertical poles to the exterior of the longhouse. Vertical poles should be sized to extend from the ground to the bottom of the roof and tied to the interior posts through the holes punched in the bark. Use one pole for each vertical post (excluding the centre posts).

Attach long poles to the exterior of the roof lengthwise, tying them to the bark. Use one pole for each pole on the inside of the roof.

Cover the door and roof openings with strips of faux fur or construction paper.

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