In the Northwest, Native Americans lived in a shelter known as the plank house. They lived near the Pacific Ocean , from northern California to southern Alaska . Northwest tribes included the Chinook, Haida, and Tlingit. The plank house was typically square or rectangular with one door and no windows. These houses varied in shape and design, however, according to the tribe that was building them. Because related families lived together in a plank house, some large plank houses were as long as 100 feet. Each of these houses had a central cooking and living area and distinct private sections for sleeping areas.
Plank houses were made of wide boards, posts, and poles—typically cedar found along the wooded areas near the sea or water body. Each house was built by placing the wood planks on poles embedded in the ground. Although some plank houses had shed roofs, most were gable style (upside down V shape) like those used in modern houses. Plank houses were considered very durable and resistant to dampness and rain. Villages were often semipermanent in that they were used all winter long and then taken apart to provide housing for the summer months. During the winter, these houses were located near the sea, but with the advent of spring, the houses were dismantled and relocated near rivers for the spawning season of the local salmon. Status among the villagers was indicated by totem poles in front of their dwellings. Carved from cedar, totem poles may recount legends, clan lineages, or notable events. The word totem is derived from the Ojibwe word odoodem , his totem, his kinship.