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

Dex needs surgery after breaking his paw in the panic caused by an apartment fire. (Submitted)
Dog needs surgery after apartment fire injury

A fundraiser has been started to contribute towards veterinarian costs

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: B.C. lawyer

‘An employer must make the case’ using expert science, explains lawyer David Mardiros

Harvest Food Bank’s Zero Waste program. (Travis Winterwed file photo)
Zero waste program continues to drastically help the North Island

The zero waste program means that Save-On Foods no longer throws anything out.

Black Press file photo
Investigation at burned Vancouver Island cabin reveals human remains

“it’s believed that the owner of an SUV vehicle found parked nearby is the deceased”

Crews with Discovery Channel film as an Aggressive Towing driver moves a Grumman S2F Tracker aircraft around a 90-degree turn from its compound and onto the road on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. It was the “most difficult” part of the move for the airplane, one organizer said. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Vintage military plane gets towed from Chilliwack to Greater Victoria

Grumman CP-121 Tracker’s eventual home the British Columbia Aviation Museum on Vancouver Island

Residents of the Cowichan Valley decorated more than 55 vehicles with anti-racist slogans for a car rally in support of Cowichan Tribes on Saturday, January 24. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Dozens join anti-racism car rally and virtual panel in Cowichan Valley

Provincial ministry and BC Green caucus issue joint statement detailing concerns

Jesse Savidant, 31, is wanted by the RCMP after failing to appear in provincial court in Nanaimo in December. Police warn Savidant should be considered violent. (Photo Submitted)
Warrant out for man accused of stolen property offences across Vancouver Island

Jesse Savidant did not appear for court date in Nanaimo last month, say RCMP

Rolling seven-day average of cases by B.C. health authority to Jan. 21. Fraser Health in purple, Vancouver Coastal red, Interior Health orange, Northern Health green and Vancouver Island blue. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
2nd COVID vaccine doses on hold as B.C. delivery delayed again

New COVID-19 cases slowing in Fraser Health region

The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is urging visitors to stay on designated trails after a hiker became injured in an unsanctioned area last week. (Westerly file photo)
Injured hiker rescued in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

“Safety is everyone’s responsibility.”

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. Two more cases of the COVID-19 strain first identified in South Africa have been diagnosed in British Columbia, bringing the total to three as of Jan. 16.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. now has three cases of South African COVID-19 variant, six of U.K. strain

Both variants are thought to spread faster than earlier strains

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Great Canadian Gaming CEO resigns after being accused of sneaking into Yukon for vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

Police discovered a makeshift nightclub in a Vancouver apartment on Jan. 23, 2021, and say it wasn’t the first time this month officers have been called to the unit over social gathering concerns. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Doorman of makeshift ‘booze-can’ in Vancouver apartment fined; police look to court order

This marks the fourth complaint about social gatherings inside the apartment in January

Local musician and artist Daisy Melville created a watercolour portrait of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders from the recent American inauguration, and with help from her mom, is now selling t-shirts and more with funds going to the Comox Valley Food Bank. Image submitted
Island artist turns Sanders inauguration meme into art for good

All proceeds from the sale of shirts, sweaters and more will go to the Comox Valley Food Bank

Most Read