Juneau celebrates first arrival of Crystal Worl-designed jet: ‘Just so proud of her’

an Alaska Airlines jet
People wearing regalia watch the inaugural arrival of Xáat Kwáani, the new Alaska Airlines plane featuring formline art by Crystal Worl, at the Juneau International Airport on May 12, 2023. (Photo by Andrés Javier Camacho/KTOO)

Gasps and cheers filled a room at the Juneau International Airport when X̱áat Ḵwáani landed on Friday morning.

The Alaska Airlines plane — its name means Salmon People in Lingít — features a giant, colorful design by Crystal Worl depicting salmon in Northwest Coast formline. 

Juneau dance group Yees Ku.oo performed a song called “Admiration” to celebrate the design’s inaugural flight. Nancy Barnes, who leads the group, said she’d been excitedly pacing back and forth all morning.

“I’ve known Crystal since she was a tiny little girl,” Barnes said. “I’m just so proud of her.”

Listen to Yees Ku.oo perform a song called “Admiration” here:

Worl was on the plane for its flight from Anchorage.

“I saw our Lingít language on the plane and heard everyone on the plane say ‘X̱áat Ḵwáani,’” she said. “I just feel immensely proud. There’s no English words for how I feel right now.”

In a speech to those gathered to celebrate, she spoke about the salmon’s cultural and spiritual importance. She said restoring salmon runs in the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers would require both traditional and modern techniques, an approach she uses in her art.

“We won’t be able to harvest again until the numbers get better, and the younger generations are not able to learn these fishing and preserving skills that have survived for generations,” she said. “We must make change in our actions and thinking about the environment.”

According to Alaska Airlines, this is the first time they’ve featured a language besides English on the main door of an aircraft. University of Alaska Southeast language Professor X̱ʼunei Lance Twitchell helped Worl decide on the name.

“It’s such a wonderful thing to have people speaking Indigenous languages in Indigenous places,” he said, before teaching the group how to say X̱áat Ḵwáani.

Listen to Twitchell’s pronunciation lesson here:

Crystal Worl
Juneau artist Crystal Worl (center) celebrates the inaugural arrival of Xáat Kwáani — the new Alaska Airlines plane featuring her formline art — with friends and family at the Juneau International Airport on May 12, 2023. (Photo by Andrés Javier Camacho/KTOO)

Worl’s grandmother, Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Kaaháni Worl, thanked the airline for highlighting Alaska Native art and language, “our language that previous generations had tried to suppress.”

X̱áat Ḵwáani is the same plane that Alaskans long knew as Salmon Thirty Salmon.

Marilyn Romano, Alaska Airlines’ regional vice president for Alaska, said the process began when it was time to repaint the Salmon Thirty Salmon II, which flew the Milk Run from Seattle through Southeast Alaska for more than a decade

“Knowing it had to be repainted, that’s when we had the opportunity to pause and really think about, ‘What could we do different?’” she said. 

Romano had seen a woman wearing a sweatshirt designed by Trickster Company — a design shop owned by Worl and her brother, Rico — at Fred Meyer in Anchorage. She bought a sweatshirt of her own in Juneau and then learned more about Worl’s art — including her murals in Juneau and Anchorage

When it was time to repaint the plane, Romano said she knew who to call.

X̱áat Ḵwáani continued on to Sitka, Ketchikan and Seattle on Friday. It’ll fly throughout Alaska Airlines’ network.

an Alaska Airlines jet
Xáat Kwáani, the new Alaska Airlines plane featuring Juneau artist Crystal Worl’s formline art, arrives at the Juneau International Airport for the first time on May 12, 2023. (Photo by Andrés Javier Camacho/KTOO)
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