Why Do the Chinook Indians Use Cedar to Build Their Homes?


Quick Answer

Natives of the Pacific Northwest, the Chinook people used cedar because it was abundant and had several useful properties as a building material. The Chinook people used the cedar for a number of other purposes as well as home building; it was considered to be the tree of life.

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Full Answer

Western Red Cedar was once found along the Pacific Northwest's coastal lowland forests, but logging has drastically reduced the numbers. As of 2015, untouched stands are found only along the coast of British Columbia and in Alaska's lower panhandle.

Cedar is strong, but lightweight. The grain has few knots, making it easier to split into the planks needed to build homes. Entire trees can be used as posts or beams. The easily carved wood can also be used to make household objects. The tree has a distinctive fragrance, given off by its natural oils that act as insect repellents.

Cedar wood is also buoyant, and the Chinook carved canoes out of entire trees. The trees were hollowed out and then shaped by steaming and carving. Elaborate carvings were placed at the bow and stern, usually to designate the owner's animal spirit. Other items made of cedar wood include baskets, sleeping platforms and twine for fishing, lashings and making clothing.

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