A pit house for a Tsilhqot’in family

Loretta Jeff Combs and Peyal Laceese with their daughter Nildziyenhiyah stand in front of their pit house which they hope to be able to move into next spring. (Rebecca Dyok photo)Loretta Jeff Combs and Peyal Laceese with their daughter Nildziyenhiyah stand in front of their pit house which they hope to be able to move into next spring. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Loretta Jeff Combs hand peels a log that will be used to build her family’s pit house near Tl’esqox (Toosey).(Rebecca Dyok photo)Loretta Jeff Combs hand peels a log that will be used to build her family’s pit house near Tl’esqox (Toosey).(Rebecca Dyok photo)
With a diameter of 60 feet, Peyal Laceese says the pit house will be the largest currently standing in North America. (Rebecca Dyok photo)With a diameter of 60 feet, Peyal Laceese says the pit house will be the largest currently standing in North America. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
The building of the pit house is turning into a family and community affair. Numerous family and Tsilhqot’in members have offered to provide assistance says Loretta Jeff Combs and Peyal Laceese with their daughter Nildziyenhiyah. (Rebecca Dyok photo)The building of the pit house is turning into a family and community affair. Numerous family and Tsilhqot’in members have offered to provide assistance says Loretta Jeff Combs and Peyal Laceese with their daughter Nildziyenhiyah. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
The pit house will have three doorways says Peyal Laceese (right) with partner Loretta Jeff Combs and their daughter Nildziyenhiyah (Rebecca Dyok photo)The pit house will have three doorways says Peyal Laceese (right) with partner Loretta Jeff Combs and their daughter Nildziyenhiyah (Rebecca Dyok photo)

Peyal Laceese has no qualms about building a traditional pit house for his new family home.

“Growing up I always heard of our people living in pit houses, and it’s always been in the back of my mind that’s how I want to live,” Laceese said at the site near Tl’esqox (Toosey) 40 kilometers west of Williams Lake.

“I’m excited to raise my daughter in a pit house like this as I can’t even imagine how special I would have felt if I grew up in a pit house.”

Late Wednesday morning Laceese’s partner Loretta Jeff Combs showed Black Press Media how to hand peel the wildfire burnt outer bark from one of hundreds of logs that will be used as poles to form the roof of the pit house which will be eventually covered with two to three feet of earth where a garden will grow.

As the outer layers of bark fell to the ground while Loretta used a debarking tool, their two-year old daughter Nildziyenhiyah played in the earthen soil that had been removed to make a 12-foot deep and 60-foot diameter hole for the pit house.

Read More: Indigenous perspective continues to be shared at B.C. Gold Rush historic town and park

Nildziyenhiyah—meaning wind walker—was born just 20 minutes after Loretta arrived at Cariboo Memorial Hospital in Williams Lake on Aug. 4, 2018 in labour.

Following her birth, the family has since resided in Williams Lake.

With full support from Loretta, Laceese said it was not until earlier this year after he was part of a Tsilhqot’in Nation delegation to New Zealand that he decided to act on his vision to build the pit house.

“When we were there the Māori hosted us in their traditional homes,” he said, noting the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s small pit houses at Nemiah Valley are not nearly large enough to house or host anyone.

“Once I experienced that it kind of solidified the idea in my mind that we have to do the same thing, and we have to have the same type of opportunity to do the same for not only when the Māori come back up but any other nations that come into the territory.”

Before earth was removed and logs were lifted and set to form the structure by local machine operator Len McClure, Laceese developed blueprints and drawings with his brother Kiko who resides in a pit house at Mount Currie.

Read More: Tsilhqot’in utilize social media after annual Nation Gathering called off due to COVID-19

The breathtaking structure consists of 12 main beams circling a full 360 degrees, supported by four old growth Douglas Fir logs that are at least 600 years old and were donated from Toosey Old School Wood Products.

“A long time ago we had a lot of manpower,” Laceese said, adding he believes it would have taken at least 100 people to dig out the earth of a historic pit house approximately 20 feet away.

“Usually it was always the women that dug out the hole while the men went out and collected the logs and lifted the logs as well,” he said.

Although the integration of modern technology saved Laceese and his family from a laborious undertaking, as per the stories passed down by elders, Laceese and male family members went and collected logs earlier this week while the women stayed at the site and peeled logs.

When the outer structure is finished before snowfall, work on the adobe flooring which will be made from a mixture of mud, clay, pine needles and sand will commence.

The only non-natural elements will be nails as well as a pond liner that will be put on top of the pit house as an additional precautionary tool to keep moisture out.

Through the Earth’s geothermal energy, the pit house will be very warm in the winter and very cool in the summer. A wood stove will be used when the winters prove to be too harsh.

Laceese said the pit house will be the largest currently standing in all of North America.

He hopes to be able to not only utilize it as a family living space, but also as a space to hold community events and host guests.

“This is definitely not going to be the last pit house,” he said, noting a possible museum for Tsilhqot’in artifacts currently housed at UBC’s Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver.

“Chief Joe Alphonse is already hinting about making one [a pit house] for Tl’etinqox (Anaham),” he added. “Knowing Chief Joe he’s going to want to go bigger after seeing this.”


Do you have a comment about this story? email:
rebecca.dyok@wltribune.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

ChilcotinIndigenous

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Township of Spallumcheen collected an honourable mention in the 2020 UBCM Community Excellence Awards for its sustainable service delivery and water improvment district conversion plan. (Photo submitted)
Spallumcheen water district conversion plan gets recognition

Township collects UBCM Community Excellence Award honourable mention

Spallumcheen councillors (from left) Todd York, Gerry Popoff, Christine LeMaire, John Bakker, Joe Van Tienhoven and Andrew Casson join Mayor Christine Fraser (fourth from left) in helping to proclaim the township open for business with new signage off Highway 97A. (Township of Spallumcheen photo)
Being open for business paying dividends for Spallumcheen

Township wins provincial award, new business and building starts increase

John Pavelich’s 83rd birthday had an added surprise; members of Enderby City Council came by his residence to present him with a Lifetime Civic Merit award Saturday, May 8, 2021. (Contributed)
Enderby resident unwraps Lifetime Civic Merit award on 83rd birthday

John ‘JP’ Pavelich has been a pillar of volunteerism in Enderby since 1967

Nuns of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, carry some of her relics during a vigil of prayer in preparation for the canonization of Mother Teresa in the St. John in Latheran Basilica at the Vatican, Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. In which city did she do much of her charitable work? (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
QUIZ: How much do you know about these motherhood issues?

In honour of Mother’s Day, take this 10-question quiz

Five properties have been added to the Lake Country fire protection zone, after council moved to expand the local service area Tuesday, May 4, 2021. (Google Maps)
Lake Country expands fire protection zone, covering 5 exposed properties

The properties petitioned to join the local service area after being left out ‘for reasons unknown’

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

RCMP are looking for information on an alleged shooting attempt near an elementary school in Smithers March 10. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News/Stock)
UPDATE: Man killed in brazen daylight shooting at Vancouver airport

Details about the police incident are still unknown

The Oliver Fire Department had to put out a fire on their own training ground, and it wasn’t one they set. (Facebook)
Vehicles torched at Oliver Fire Department training grounds

This suspected arson comes after the cars were vandalized earlier and suspicious fire the night before

Tavis Stevenson, son of Pam and Bruce Stevenson, founders of The Book Shop on Main St, is the creator of the whimsical animal farm carts seen above The Book Shop. He also painted the book mural in the back alley behind the shop. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
The Book Shop in downtown Penticton is one of those rare gems

The Book Shop, like so many businesses, is wanting to turn the page to the end of this pandemic

Pieces of nephrite jade are shown at a mine site in northwestern B.C. in July 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Tahltan Central Government MANDATORY CREDIT
Indigenous nation opposes jade mining in northwestern B.C.

B.C.’s Mines Act requires operators to prepare a plan to protect cultural heritage resources

Salmon Arm Silverbacks forward Mathieu Bourgault (13) tries unsuccessfully to deflect past West Kelowna goalie Johnny Derrick during the Warriors’ come-from-behind 7-6 BC Hockey Leaguje pod shootout victory Saturday, May 8, at Vernon’s Kal Tire Place. (Tami Quan Photography)
West Kelowna Warriors rally to edge Salmon Arm in shootout

Warriors overcome three significant deficits to post 7-6 BCHL pod win in Vernon; Silverbacks finish pod 9-7-2-2

The body of Brenda Ware, 35, was found along Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (RCMP handout)
RCMP ask for tips after woman’s body found in Kootenay National Park

Brenda Ware was found along Highway 93 in the park, 54 kilometres north of the town of Radium

People pass the red hearts on the COVID-19 Memorial Wall mourning those who have died, opposite the Houses of Parliament on the Embankment in London, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. On May 3, the British government announced that only one person had died of COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kirsty Wigglesworth
For a view of a COVID-19 future, Canadians should look across the pond

Britain, like Canada, is one of the only countries in the world to delay second doses for several months

Most Read