People in the Kivalina region were historically nomadic and lived in various types of seasonal housing. The longest time people would stay at the same place was three months in mid winter and three months during spring. Location was dependent on seasonal subsistence practices.
Along the coast people lived in sodhouses, at the river they used willow branch and moss structures, and in the hills they stacked rocks to build housing. People also used willow and caribou hide tents and ice and snow dome shaped buildings when they were regularly mobile. Willow, abundant in the region, becomes very rigid when dried and was woven into dome shaped structures. Families of up to 25 people would live in housing complexes up the Kivalina and Wulik Rivers during the winter. Some of these houses would be connected by tunnels (Those living in this type named “Qaqiaqtuat”). Others were autonomous but would be close enough to see (Those living in this type were named “Silaliuut”). Traditional construction materials were: driftwood, willow, whalebone, sod (to cover the roof), intestine (for skylights-windows), rocks, moss (to put in the cracks). After Kivalina permanently settled on the island around the school and churches and until the 1960s, sod houses were the most prevalent housing type in the village. Today most have forgotten how to build with local materials. There is still a tradition of creating art and tools in the village today. Carving (mostly whale bone), and tanning of hyde, are both practiced but most vernacular building knowledge has not been passed on.
People still use underground storage refrigerators, “Siglauq”, (as seen here). Two of them remain half a mile on the coastline off Kivalina, one of which is still used and needs to be cleaned annually by because of the melting ice. The people also use mammal and fish drying racks, “Ikiqaks” (see left), made out of drift wood to dry fish. Some fish racks are located outside of town on the coastline because the sand and dust around town might spoil the drying meat. Fish racks in town are best located between houses so that no wind will carry sand onto the meat. Fish racks out of town are at risk from bears who might ruin the harvest.
We were told by quite a few people that even nowadays almost everyone knows how to build a house, because “already children help their families. That’s where they learn.” There are a lot people who would work as carpenters. Electrical engineers and plumbers is what they’re lacking in Kivalina. On site, there is a lot of driftwood and bulky waste, pallets and cut waste from construction. People also go to the landfill to collect parts which can be of use for building. All the construction wood is usually flown in or brought on barges.
There is not much vegetation which would be used for construction, but sod and soil could still be used for roof coverage.
With the exception of dogs, no animals are currently kept. The people used to keep caribou herds prior to the late 60s on the mainland.
Fishing cabins, which are located a few miles from the village and copy the structure of the houses in Kivalina are used by everybody, and are shared in the community if somebody is in need. People stay there for only a couple of days during summer to hunt and fish.