British Columbia

Tŝilhqot'in family builds traditional pit house as a way to connect with ancestors

A Tŝilhqot'in family is building a traditional pit house in B.C.'s Cariboo region as a way of living in closer connection with their ancestors. 

Round home dug into the ground will have 6 metre-high ceilings and be 18 metres in diameter when complete

A traditional Tsilhqot'in pit house is dug into the ground, usually in a round shape, with logs and earth to create a domed roof. (Submitted by Peyal Francis Laceese)

A Tŝilhqot'in family is building a traditional pit house in B.C.'s Cariboo region as a way of living in closer connection with their ancestors. 

Peyal Laceese and his wife Loretta Jeff Combs are building their family pit house in Tl'esqox, 40 kilometres west of Williams Lake.

"It's always been in the back of my head, ever since I was a young boy. I always heard stories and legends ... and I always wondered what it looked like and what it was like to be in a pit house," said Laceese. 

The pit house is the traditional winter home of the Tŝilhqot'in. It is dug into the ground, usually in a round shape, with logs and earth creating a domed roof.

When completed, Laceese says their family pit house will be about 60 feet (18 metres) in diameter and 10 feet (three metres) deep into the ground.

Peyal Laceese says the pit house they are constructing is close the ancient remains of another, much larger pit house. (Submitted by Peyal Francis Laceese)

With old-growth logs forming beams above the circle, the ceiling height of the house will be immense.

"Right now, and when you stand in the middle and look up, it's about 20 feet (six metres) from the ground level, which is 10 feet (three metres) from the [dug out] earth," he said.

Laceese says the pit house they are constructing is close to the ancient remains of another, much larger pit house — one he estimates to be around 45 metres across and 15 metres high from the floor level dug into the ground. 

"The size and magnitude of that pit house makes this pit house look like a closet," he said. 

The ceilings in the competed pit house will be about six metres high. (Submitted by Peyal Francis Laceese)

While the idea of constructing a pit house had always been in the back of his mind, Laceese said that the COVID-19 pandemic — and subsequent physical distancing measures — set things into motion.

"It gave us a lot more opportunity to spend a lot more time out in the land, and spend a lot more time just by ourselves being able to construct this huge project," he said. 

Laceese and Combs also hope to give their two-year-old daughter Nildziyenhiyah an opportunity to continue ancestral traditions.

"To have her say, 'I'm living traditionally in a pit house, living the same way that my ancestors did hundreds and hundreds of years ago' — I've never met or knew anybody who could say that," he said. 

"I can't imagine how exhilarating and how much of an experience it will be for her."

The family hopes to move into the home next spring. 

Peyal Laceese and his wife Loretta Jeff Combs with their two-year-old daughter Nildziyenhiyah. (Submitted by Peyal Francis Laceese)

Listen to the interview here:

Peyal Laceese always dreamed of living in a traditional Indigenous pit house as his ancestors did. Now, he's turning it into a reality. 8:29

With files from Daybreak North, Daybreak Kamloops

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