On May 11, Alaska Airlines unveiled its first aircraft with paintwork by Alaska Native artist Crystal Kaakeeyáa Rose Demientieff Worl. The artwork pays tribute to the Xáat Kwáani, which translates to “Salmon People” in the Tlingit language, and refers to the “spiritual link between the people who interact with the beloved salmon and all of us who benefit from their stewardship of the environment,” according to a prepared statement from Alaska Airlines.
The design features Northwest Coast formline art, and Worl’s one-of-a-kind piece honors salmon, culture, artistic expression, and language—and formline, with its two-dimensional style depicting the Pacific Northwest coast, dates back thousands of years.
“Every time I looked at an Alaska [Airlines] plane, I couldn’t help but visualize the salmon being in formline, or having some sort of design that represents identity,” Worl says in a prepared statement. “I have high hopes this project will encourage people to learn and embrace Indigenous culture and values.”
The salmon have long held an important and respected role in the state of Alaska as well as the Pacific Northwest and West Coast regions. Some may swim upward of 600 miles between the ocean and their home stream, and each fish is uniquely adapted to its particular river system, ocean, and watershed environment.
The painted Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-800 is the first of any domestic airline fleet to have a name on the plane in an Alaska Native language and the first time the airline has featured a language besides English on a main aircraft door. “This will be significant to have Indigenous language on an airplane,” adds Worl. “People will see it, they’ll try to say ‘Xáat Kwáani’, and they’ll want to know more and [will be] be curious to learn about it and want to feel connected to it.”
The aircraft took its inaugural flight the following day on May 12 from Anchorage through southeast Alaska, with its first stop in Juneau followed by Sitka, Ketchikan, and Seattle.