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Thanksgiving’s Green Architecture

Thanksgiving Green ArchitectureJust about every American knows the story of the first Thanksgiving in 1621– when the English Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth celebrated their first successful harvest with the Native Americans of the Wampanoag tribe. Their massive feast (which ended up lasting over 3 days!) is what we base our current Thanksgiving holiday around. Believe it or not, innovation and sustainability were there, right alongside the roast turkey at the first Thanksgiving. By incorporating a spirit of thanksgiving in the construction of their homes, the Native Americans of Massachusetts set a standard we can still aspire to today.

Wampanoag Construction: America’s First Sustainable Buildings

Through their intimate knowledge and appreciation of the environment, Wampanoag men and women built structures that worked with the land – never against it.

Smart Building: Two main building styles existed in Wampanoag culture.The small, round wetu (weh-t’oo), was used as a single family home with an exterior of cattail matting. This home’s round shape made it more resistant to storms and hurricanes, and allowed it to be heated evenly from an indoor fire. The larger 35’ foot nushweety (nuhsh weh t’oo) was covered in large sheets of insulating tree bark and served as a home for multiple families or tribe leaders.

Using Local Resources: An intimate understanding of nature was key. The Wampanoag knew that spring was the best time to collect the bark and small saplings needed to create building frames. Spring’s running sap made the wood moist and pliable, allowing it to be bent into the rounded house frame without breaking. Women collected, dried, and wove cattail reeds into mats used to shunt rain off the roofs and insulate the interior.

Natural Recylcing: When the homes became too worn to provide adequate protection, they were pulled down and returned to the Earth to decompose and revitalize the soil, thus allowing for the materials of future homes to grow. The Wampanoag saw this as a natural cycle of life in a land which gave them everything, and to them, thanksgiving was the act of acknowledging that taken life, by praying, singing, and holding ceremonies to honor it.

Sustainability: This Wampanoag way of life lasted for over 10,000 years — proof that sustainable living works! The Wampanoag nation numbered some 30,000 people before coming into contact with diseases brought by European settlers. The Wampanoag homeland included approximately 67 villages spanning out across what is now southeastern Massachusetts and eastern Rhode Island.


We can find inspiration today in the way the Wampanoag lived their lives. By using renewable products like bamboo and environmentally-sound building techniques we will ensure our own culture thrives for many generations to come.

Learn more about Wampanoag building techniques and culture!

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