Traditional Dakelh pit-house being built for students

Nak’al Bun Elementary School creates cultural living classroom.

  • Jun. 29, 2015 12:00 p.m.

Vincent Prince is out on site excavating the holes required to begin building a pit-house for Nak’al Bun Elementary School which will be used by students for cultural learning and education.

The field on the side of Nak’al Bun Elementary School looks like it could be an archaeological excavation site. Vincent Prince, Executive Director Aboriginal Business Development Centre in Prince George, is in town starting excavation to build a traditional Dakelh pit-house for the school.

This will be the third, and largest, pit-house Prince has built. His first pit-house he said he built about 15 years ago on the family’s home on an island on Stuart Lake. He’s been working with 19 Century drawings and descriptions made by Father Adrien-Gabriel Morice, a Catholic missionary, who came to Fort St. James in the late 1800’s.

“I got the design from Father Morice’s books, my dad was transcribing the syllabics and there were drawings,” Prince said. “He had gone to visit three (pit-houses) up at Inzana Lake and he had done some drawings and so my dad said I should build one.”

A pit-house is a traditional winter dwelling of the Carrier (Dakelh) people and this form of permanent structure were built by various cultures throughout the Americas. They are typically built in a circular shape with a one metre deep pit excavated out of the ground with a wood and earthen exterior for insulation and an entrance at the top of the structure.

Prince said often in southern places like the Okanagan there would be side entrances in the dwellings because of the warmer climate.

He said the pit-house will get a side entrance for ease of use for children and elders who may use the space.

“We’re going to build a side entrance here just into the bank, for the little kids,” he said. “We will put the pole in the middle, it has a pole with steps in it. In the north that would have been the only in and out.”

The project was expected to begin in May, but issues surrounding getting the logs needed for the project weren’t sorted out until recently when Prince said Conifex made a donation to the project.

“Unfortunately we were supposed to start in May, but it didn’t get started as soon as I wanted to,” he said. “Conifex was kind enough to donate the bulk of the logs.”

Prince calculates that there are close to one hundred hours for digging the holes for the main beams and another 70 to 100 to do the log work.

“There’s probably a hundred hours of just digging alone,” he said. “It’s a lot of dirt to move.”

He said Nak’al Bun Elementary School will use the space for cultural learning and will be a great addition to the community.

“It’s going to be nice and big, they are going to hold classes in here and do cultural programming,” he said. “It’s going to be fun.”

 

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