Housing People and Spirits: A Traditional Haida House
"My family and I built a traditional Haida house that we live in, but it's a modernized design. For example, in place of the smoke hole we put a skylight."
—Jim Hart, Haida artist
Although Haida people today live in Western style single-family houses, until the late 1800s Haidas lived with their extended family, or house group, in communal cedar plank houses. Houses were typically built facing the shoreline, usually in a single row interspersed with totem poles. Today the Haida and other Native peoples are again building traditional cedar plank houses where they hold potlatches, dances, and other ceremonies.
Northwest Coast houses hold great symbolic meaning. A communal house is not simply a physical container but a symbolic container for ritual life and spiritual power inherited from ancestors. A house was viewed as a living being with a name of its own. In some cases, the house door was the mouth or stomach of a carved or painted animal spirit, and people entering were said to be swallowed by the house.