From the Hangars

Museum to rehome a Chilkoot Totem artifact

Oct 09, 2023

Indigenous Peoples' Day 2023 is special for the Delta Flight Museum as we get closer to an initiative to rehome a Chilkoot Totem Pole that is currently on exhibit.


The museum houses a Chilkoot Totem Pole, which has been on exhibition for ten years. Museum staff have known this artifact is an oddity within the aviation museum. More recently, staff have sought to understand why it is in Atlanta and asked: Does it belong here? 

The totem pole was carved by Alaskan Chilkoot in 1969. The totem was a gift to Western Airlines to acknowledge their commitment to Alaska when they merged with Pacific Northern Airlines. It was erected in honor of Western’s first 40-year employee and was put to rest in front of Western’s headquarters in LA until Delta merged with Western in 1987 and moved it to Atlanta.

Cover of Flight Times, Chilkoot Indian Carvers

The consensus of Museum staff was that this object should not have been rehomed to Atlanta from Los Angeles and deserves to live in a collection of the indigenous people who carved it originally.  Museum staff feels this object should be interpreted by a museum or cultural institution with expertise in Western indigenous peoples’ history. 

Rehoming the Chilkoot Totem Pole

The Museum set out to find a new home for the totem pole. Since the Chilkoot carved the pole, staff contacted the Chilkoot Indian Association in Haines, Alaska, to see if they would be interested. 

Their government is buying Alaska Indian Arts, the organization the pole was carved at, and has acquired the tribal house adjacent to it. They are in the process of raising funds for a cultural center and are very interested in this artifact. Their organization is searching for artwork from indigenous artists.

Museum staff are thrilled to go through the process of appropriately rehoming an artifact that will be preserved and interpreted by the people who created it. We are grateful to the Haines Sheldon Museum staff, and the Chilkoot Indian Association, for working with the Museum on this project.

Totem 2

About the Chilkoot Indian Association & Alaskan Indian Arts (AIA)

The Chilkoot Nation is an officially federally recognized nation in Haines, Alaska.  The Tlingit refers to the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America.  There are multiple nations within the Tlingit, and the Jilḵoot Ḵwáan, referred to today as the Chilkoot Tribe or Chilkoot people, is one of them. 

The Chilkoot Indian Association’s mission statement: “The Chilkoot Indian Association represents a Native Sovereign Nation. We integrate Chilkoot culture, values, and beliefs into daily life and work to improve the quality of life for our members and our community. The Chilkoot Indian Association serves its members and community in a variety of exciting ways, from housing projects to Youth services to environmental efforts and in transportation initiatives to cultural preservation activities.”

The Alaskan Indian Arts (AIA) mission statement: “Alaska Indian Arts is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to the preservation and continuation of traditional native craft and culture of the Northwest Coast Native Tribes.”

Nina Thomas

Director - Exhibits & Public Programs


Leave a comment
  1. TFB | Nov 23, 2023
    I don’t get it. It was a gift to an airline that is now part and parcel of Delta. We didn’t go to a reservation and steal it!!!! Keep it in the museum and interpret the context!!!
  2. KMK | Nov 07, 2023
    Well done! 

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