How did our ancestors brave Harsh Weather


By Lars Duckchief


Earlier this week, I saw a post asking how did our ancestors survive [the harsh winters]. There were many techniques they used to keep from freezing. 12,000 years back there is evidence they used small circular lodgings like the sweat lodges.

Archaeologists identified these as workshops, but I beg to differ.

In these “workshops” were many FBR (fire broken rocks). Anyone that’s been in a sweat knows how hot these rocks got and how long they stayed hot. These same quartz like rocks are the same type of rocks we select for their ability to hold the heat. A thousand years from now they might find similar FBR (our sweat rocks) and surmise as to what they are and maybe even conclude “from the literature” that they are FBR, but we know today that these were sweat rocks.

When we call our Elder at a sweat, part of the call is “a’ka waa niitsi nítsi - meaning: the rocks are breaking up from the heat of the fire - aaniitohpi / broken apart [from the heat]. There was a period in our history of our people that’s referred to as [the people] Aapiimaiksi. Aapiimaan were sweat like lodges (George First Rider). Then there were iiyo’ohkito’ko’mápiiksi (stone ring people, then the isstaokaiksi (the pegged lodge people), and finally - up to present - the i’ko’kaiksi (the painted lodge people). In each era we found ways to survive the winter - insulating our lodges with grass, and Ooto’kssksiis / inner paper like bark, drifts insulated as well. Furs on the floors.

Just for starters. Lodges didn’t have the doors like today - they had overlapping flaps (I still use makeshift overlapping flaps today by overlapping my liners at the door) that keep the heat in and the cold out. The original lodges had no oval entrance. There were no gaps at the bottom - hence iiyo’ohkoto’kso’mapiiks (stone weighed down the bottoms.

A good fire let the heat rise and take out the smoke. I still weigh mine down with no gap at the bottom and the lodge is much warmer. No smoke problem either as long as the fire is going and if you don’t use wood that smoulders. We also observed all the signs around us. The animals, the skies and we were able to forecast what we needed to get ready for. And we prepared. We wore Buffalo fur hats for one thing. Made from the long hair on the hump of Iinii / Buffalo, for instance. Buffalo fur/hide moccasins. And we were taught how to survive by the Wolves. There’s a story about that. And some no doubt perished in the cold.

That’s why we count our years of age by the winters. I am 63 years / I am 63 Winters. We used the winters because that was the hardest time of the year. We were proud to make it through 63 winters. Our people were also acclimatized.

The outdoors was our living room. The lodge of whatever type was our shelter not our living quarters. We let ourselves get drifted over in extreme temperatures if caught out in the weather. That insulated us from the cold. Of course the Buffalo robe was our main shield against everything. We didn’t survive at least tens of thousands of years by not knowing how to survive. We should be proud of that. And we didn’t wear sandals outside... we used common sense most importantly.

Iiyiika’kimaak Níksókowaawák