For Indigenous artist Crystal Worl, the sky is the limit

    X̱áat Ḵwáani's first stop was Juneau. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - On Friday, May 12, an art piece unlike any other took to the sky: X̱áat Ḵwáani (Salmon People).

    The Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-800 is the first of any domestic airline fleet to be named in an Alaska Native language and to depict the ancestral importance of salmon through Northwest Coast formline art.

    The aircraft began flying on May 12, with an inaugural flight from Anchorage through Southeast Alaska. The first stop of Alaska Airlines flight 62 was through Worl's hometown of Juneau. It will continue through Sitka, Ketchikan, and Seattle.

    Designed by Crystal Kaakeeyáa Rose Demientieff Worl, X̱áat Ḵwáani landed in Juneau Friday morning.

    Worl is a Lingít (Tlingit), Athabascan, and Filipino artist in Juneau and the co-owner of Trickster Company. She owns Trickster Co. with her brother, Rico Worl.

    A reception for her family was held upstairs at the Juneau International Airport's Alaska Room.

    Below: Yées Ḵu.Oo dancers welcomed Worl and her family with a performance of the song "Admiration". (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    Worl belongs to Lukaax̱.ádi, the Raven Sockeye clan, and is Deg Hit’an Athabascan from Fairbanks.

    X̱áat Ḵwáani means “Salmon People” in the Alaskan Lingít language and refers to the spiritual link between the people who interact with the beloved salmon and everyone who benefits from their stewardship of the environment.

    Traditional formline art dates back thousands of years and is a two-dimensional design style of the Northwest Coast.

    “Every time I looked at an Alaska plane, I couldn't help but visualize the salmon being in formline, or having some sort of design that represents identity. I can't help but look at things and see how to Indigenize them,” said Worl. “I have high hopes this project will encourage people to learn and embrace Indigenous culture and values.”

    Marilyn Romano, Alaska Airlines’ regional vice president for Alaska said that this is so much more than a painted plane; it is traveling culture and language.

    Romano said that she first found out about Trickster Co. after buying a sweatshirt and talking with Worl's brother, Rico Worl. When it was decided to repaint the Salmon Thirty Salmon II, she reached out to Worl.

    Something hard to believe was that Worl, in an Instagram post in 2020, had teased Alaska Airlines with a design. Without knowing this, Romano asked her to design the plane. She had no idea when she first reached out that this would be Worl's dream come true.

    “This will be significant to have Indigenous language on an airplane,” said Worl. “People will see it, they'll read it, they'll try to say ‘X̱áat Ḵwáani’; and they'll want to know more and be curious to learn about it and want to feel connected to it. I'm excited to be part of this.”

    Above: Worl and Romano hug. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    For those who do want to try to say it, X̲'unei Lance Twitchell, a Professor of Alaska Native Languages at the University of Alaska Southeast helped teach it Friday morning. He said it is a "sacred word".

    "For time and memorial, we have lived with these salmon," Twitchell said. "They sustain us. They allow us to survive."

    X̱áat means fish, and Ḵwáan means ancestral people of the place. By adding the i at the end, "Ḵwáani", it means they are talking to the spirit of the thing that is nonhuman. By naming the plane X̱áat Ḵwáani, they are talking to the spirit of the salmon.

    "I see our art coming back in such strong ways; I see our language coming back in such strong ways," Twitchell said. "To have children teaching us how to say words. So to see this, it's like...we were in the hangar, and I was just thinking, it's like I can see our ancestors peeking through the windows."

    Worl said in her speech Friday that her creative process is a means to bridge her existence between two worlds; the traditional worlds of Lingít and the modern world. She also talked more about the significance of the salmon.

    "The salmon are incredibly intelligent beings. They navigate long distances to return home so that they can spawn and provide for their offspring. Their bodies deliver nutrients to the next generation," she said. "They deliver nitrogen from deep waters to our land, which has allowed the Tongass rainforest to become lush, and its wildlife to grow big and strong. The salmon have been feeding and teaching us for a long time. It's significant that we hear and see them now more than ever."

    Worl and Twitchell both thanked Tribal Spokesperson Fran Houston for making them feel welcome on Áak'w Kwáan land.

    Worl's grandmother, Rosita Worl, the President of Sealaska Heritage Institute, had people in their different Alaska Native languages say "thank you" to Alaska Airlines. She said she's very proud to see their culture "continuing for thousands of more years."

    Below: X̱áat Ḵwáani lands in Juneau for the first time. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    Below: "A Tlingit airplane!" was exclaimed when the plane landed. Many people crowded against the windows in excitement. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    Below: Worl sings and dances with family while watching her art take off to its next stop. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    Below: Worl stands with the plane behind her. (Photo provided by Alaska Airlines)

    She has been widely recognized for her art; for her Art of the Skateboard stamps, released in March of 2023, for painting a Capital City Fire Rescue ambulance, installing a steel cut medallion in downtown Juneau, and for painting a 60-foot by 25-foot mural of Elizabeth Peratrovich on Juneau's downtown library building.

    X̱áat Ḵwáani (Salmon People) paint facts:
    • It took 117 gallons of paint to complete the livery.
    • Four main colors were used to create the livery: Midnight Blue, Atlas Blue, White, and Pink.
    • From landing to take-off, it took just 12 days to paint.
    • The specially painted livery will fly for a number of years through a paint system that applies a protective clear coat over the base coats. This protective coating will keep the livery looking fresh for many years.
    • View a timelapse video of the painting of the plane. (Provided by Alaska Airlines)

    This article was written by Jasz Garrett and the audio was provided by Jordan Lewis.

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