If you get snow blindness, you’re worthless.
—Oscar Koutchak, 2001
Snow goggles, which protect the eyes from sun damage, were made in many different styles. This pair from Barrow has individual wooden eyepieces, connected by strands of red and blue glass beads. The long, narrow eye slits blocked excess light but still gave a wide field of vision.
Region: Northwest Alaska
Village: Point Barrow
Object Category: Hunting
Object Type: Snow goggles
Dimensions: Length 16cm
Accession Date: 1918
Source: Harley Stamp (collector)
Museum: National Museum of the American Indian
Museum ID Number: 077564.000
Anna Etageak: Sun glasses.
Theresa Nanouk: A long time ago people used to go blind from the sun being bright, so they make their own glasses like that. So they won’t get snow blind.(2)
Anna Etageak: My poppa used to get snow blind. He said, “Araaah!” Really hurt. So he used to wear this kind [snow goggles].
Frances Charles: [Used in the] springtime. So they won’t get snow blind.
Art Ivanoff: The glare [to protect eyes against the sunlight reflected from snow and ice].
Oscar Koutchak: I got snow blind once, and I had to stay in the house for three days. If you get snow blindness, you’re worthless. It’s painful. Achapak used to use those too.
Theresa Nanouk: I think most all the seal hunters did a long time ago.
Oscar Koutchak: Yes.
Stephen Loring: Did your father make his own pairs?
Theresa Nanouk: He was always making them.
Anna Etageak: Out of wood. But they were never neat like this. He made them himself any old way.
Oscar Koutchak: It’s good work. Wooden snow goggles.
Frances Charles: Yukłuktaak. Yukłuktaaŋik ipkua pisuugait.
(Snow glasses/snow goggles.(3) They called them yukłuktaak long ago.)
[From discussion with Frances Charles, Anna Etageak, Art Ivanoff (Native Village of Unalakleet), Oscar Koutchak, Theresa Nanouk and Branson Tungiyan (Kawerak, Inc.) at the National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of the American Indian, 5/07/2001-5/11/2001. Also participating: Aron Crowell, Bill Fitzhugh and Stephen Loring (NMNH) and Suzi Jones (AMHA).]
1. The Iñupiaq Elders from Barrow did not discuss this pair of snow goggles. The discussion presented here comes from a discussion by Iñupiaq Elders from the Unalakleet area of a similar pair of snow goggles E024340.
2. According to Frances Charles, snow goggles were used when out in the snow and on the ice.
3. The name for this in the North Slope dialect of Iñupiaq is yuġluqtaak [sun goggles].
As the amount of sunshine increased in late winter and spring, people wore goggles to protect their eyes from snow blindness. This painful, debilitating condition occurs when strong ultraviolet light reflects from snow and ice, burning the retinas. Snow goggles have narrow slits that reduce the amount of glare that can reach the wearer’s eyes, while still providing a wide range of vision.(1)
Many styles of snow goggles were worn across the Alaskan and Canadian arctic. This early 20th century pair from Barrow has separate eye pieces, connected with beaded sinew strings. According to John Murdoch, the common Barrow type in the early 1880s was a single piece of carved wood with narrow eye slits, notches at the middle to accommodate the nose, and holes at each end for a braided sinew head strap. The pairs he collected had traces of red ocher paint on the outside.(2)
1. Birket-Smith 1936:121; Fitzhugh and Kaplan 1982:100; Murdoch 1892:260-61; Nelson 1899:169
2. Murdoch 1892:261