Kayla (Anishinaabe, Shawnee) spent most of her childhood on Chestnut Ridge in the Laurel Highlands, learning about Appalachian native plants and traditional medicines from her grandmother – a storyteller, dancer, musician, and founder of Thyme for Herbs. An avid reader as a child, Kayla would sit in trees with a bag of seeds and read silently until birds arrived. She learned to hunt and fish from her father who learned his many skills – including maple sugaring – from his late father. In the summers, Kayla would swim in the Youghiogheny River with her little brother, Kyle. Through numerous environmental and sportsmen camps, she learned about the acid mine drainage that stained the local creeks a thick orange color.
Fast forward 10 years and Kayla, a certified engineer, is pursuing her Masters in Indigenous Rights and Social Justice at ASU before pursuing a PhD in alternative energy and tribal policy. Her passion is combining environmental conservation with traditional wisdom and culturally-relevant paradigms. Her most recent project analyzed the thermal efficiency and cultural competency of traditional Navajo hogans and other southwest homes; this year, she intends to focus on the cultural loss and damage of endangered Anishinaabe manoomin (wild rice) crops in her community. She was a 2015 White House Tribal Youth Gathering participant and spoke as an indigenous rights representative with the US Human Network at the United Nations Headquarters. Inspired by holistic programs she worked with in India and Cameroon, she co-founded a STEM-based project initiative through the American Indian Science & Engineering Society (AISES) where she was inducted as a Sequoyah Fellow. In 2016, she was appointed to the NEJAC/EPA Youth Perspectives on Climate Working Group and later selected as a COP22 delegate, focusing on solidarity between the indigenous Standing Rock and Imider resistances. In her free time, Kayla hikes, volunteers with No More Deaths, writes, and draws. She also holds an international gold medal title with Team USA in inline hockey. Kayla is currently studying Navajo language at Diné College and conducting research with the Diné Policy Institute of Tsaile, Navajo Nation.