Shelter Reflection

Shelter Reflection

Shelter Reflection: What can I learn about my family by studying our home?

By Courtney Agenten, Project Archaeology Network Director (2020)
Shelter Reflection (2)
Courtney and her family enjoying the outdoors.

In the beginning of March, a time I am now referring to as pre-COVID, I presented at a social studies conference. I taught elementary and middle school teachers from Minnesota about the Meskwaki people who once lived in a wickiup shelter in the Midwest. While conducting the investigation of the archaeology site map a teacher made a comment I have never heard before. After describing the artifacts found on the map, she made the inference, “These people were busy!” I thought that was an honest interpretation of the past as well as our modern culture: We are busy. That week I felt busy and overwhelmed by daily tasks, attending three conferences, taking a midterm exam, and all while caring for two children under the age of four and a husband in school full-time earning a master’s degree in theology. I remember thinking, could the world just stop for a second so I can get a grip.

Then it did! I remember being relieved when our country was called to slow down. We were all asked to shelter-in-place and stay home. Shelter. Home.

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Courtney’s youngest daughter completing a Project Archaeology lesson.

Those words keep popping out to me because I am completely used to looking at these words in the context of archaeology. I have spent hours contemplating how past people thought about their homes and used their homes based on information from oral history and archaeology. Now, questions I once placed over history I have started to ask myself as I look around my home and reflect on what my home means to me and how I want to spend time in my home with my family. I ask myself similar questions I would typically ask of the past. Questions I have asked hundreds of students and teachers as we investigate Native American, slave, and colonial shelters in the curriculum guide, Project Archaeology: Investigating Shelter.

What basic needs must all humans have in order to live? According to the empty shelves in our markets, toilet paper and beans and rice are basic needs. What is the purpose for shelter?

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Courtney’s older daughter completing a Project Archaeology lesson at home.

Currently, shelter is serving as protection from a contagious virus. Are all shelters the same? I live in an apartment in a college dormitory, about 1000 square feet. Some of the shelters archaeologists study include: a 1200 square foot round earthlodge, 78 square foot wickiup, 154 square foot tipi, 375 square foot slave cabin, 676 square foot pueblo, 573 square foot shotgun house, and a 1600 square foot farmhouse. How does your home compare to the types of shelters people have lived in and raised their families for hundreds of years?

A Kickapoo person once shared a message, “By our houses you will know us.” What would people know about me and my family from my house? What does my house say about me? How does the stuff (artifacts) reflect how we spend our time? On a family walk, I asked my husband, “What does ‘home’ mean to you?” He responded, “Home is where your stuff is.” Of course, I was looking for a deeper response on how he wants our home to feel when he enters, but he is right. The stuff in our home says what and who we are. We continued to talk and think about what we want our home to be and the meaning it has for us. Just like the poles of a tipi carry special meaning for the Crow tribe, our home and the “stuff” inside hold a sacred significance for us too. We have bookshelves in every room full of novels, theology and history books, and picture books to read and learn about our world and what we believe. Our home is a classroom. Toys, blankets, chairs, and pillows are always scattered on our floor because let’s be honest our home is a playground to climb, jump, and grow from. Inevitably it is a place to tidy.

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The Agenten family room on a typical day.

While learning how to make Lefse (a Norwegian treat) a church lady passed on more than a cultural recipe to me; she taught me when I see a mess to give thanks instead of getting frustrated because I can be thankful I have a floor to clean. With music playing and girls in dress up clothes our home is a dance hall. Our family bed is a tangle of prayers, legs going every direction and curly hair, red hair, gray hair, and bangs-just-cut-by-my-sister hair. Some late nights you can find little girls draped in our arms half-asleep listening to mom and dad discuss religion and health on our couches. The cross on the wall, hymn music on the piano, and Bible on the desk confess a commitment to Christ. My kitchen is full of experimentation with new recipes adapting to a food allergy, health kicks, and a sweet tooth.

By our home you will know we care about our children, we like to learn, and we like to create. Most of all, home to me means a sanctuary devoted to loving and serving Jesus and my family and eventually a place for me to practice hospitality again (I love people and I miss entertaining). In our home we bake, play, snuggle, read, and rest. It is an active, healthy, and creative home. A beautiful mess in progress. Slowing down and staying home has come with many blessings and the challenge to find joy in everything.

Take a moment to think about if I were to visit your home tomorrow, what could I learn about you from your house? What do the objects in your home say about you and what you care about? If you want to be more hands-on with your reflection investigate your own living room with the attached activity from Investigating Shelter “Family Room Site” (Family-Room-Site64-67 ). You can even be an archaeologist and tape your room off into four quadrants for your study. Enjoy the thrill of discovering your own home!