Kayla DeVault. Photo provided by Kayla DeVault
Kayla DeVault. Photo provided by Kayla DeVault

Aaniin boozhoo. Kayla indizhinikaaz. Miskwaadesi indoodem.

Hello! I am Kayla, a member of the Shawnee Turtle Clan and also Anishinaabe (Ojibwe, Bodewadmi). I am a uniformed service member in the USPHS assisting specifically in tribal hospitals. I’m also a PhD student in food sovereignty and toxicology issues regarding my Ojibwe homelands, having finished a graduate M.S. in American Indian Studies as well as studying an MPH, graduate engineering, and concluding an MDiv for spiritual guidance. I received my undergraduate degrees in summer 2013 in Civil (geotechnical and environmental) Engineering, French Literature and Language, and Diné Studies. For my first M.S., I utilized ethnographic data from tribal members to study traditional foodways, contamination pathways, and food sovereignty topics of the Leech Lake Ojibwe — in particular about manoomin, our sacred wild rice.

I am interested in Indigenous topics that improve relations and clarify the impacts of Imperial histories. Specifically, my research interests include Indigenous architecture, archaeology, energy development, storywork, historical recollections, the oral tradition, traditional foodways, health and wellness, climate science, Indigenous education, Ojibwe and Shawnee philosophy, Indigneous-led environmental movements, and psychology issues regarding how nations form and thrive. I love my job as a uniformed officer and appreciate my past experiences teaching at Arizona universities. I am passionate about sharing Indigenous points of view on topics of engineering, architecture, archaeology, history, public lands, outdoor recreation, climate, environmentalism, and politics — I have done this with my channel Sovereign Stories since 2017 and even longer on my talks with REI and various UN sanctioned events around the world. I am an athlete with a Team USA gold medal (inline hockey, but I do LOTS more competitive sports like climbing and rugby and running/pole vaulting and dancing!) and I play many instruments. I’m a Seqouyah Fellow of AISES, on their editing board, and have been published in magazines from Yes! to the Alpinist. I also speak dozens of languages! If you are into social media, my Instagram and my Twitter are found at @htiaf_alyak (Kayla Faith backwards) where I share my writing, photography, traveling, and outdoor athletic pursuits — and feel free to message me for free resources I provide on traveling and engaging in great organizations like AISES for Indigenous STEM and their allies in STEM. Miigwech | thanks!

1 Are you an early bird or night owl?

Early bird

2 Are you pro- or anti-pun?

Pro-pun

3 Do you have any pets?

Cats, guinea pig, fish, and chickens at the moment.

4 Do you have any science-themed home decor?

Lots of Indigenous philosophy based artwork as well as geological pieces collected under prayer. And one framed boiler drawing from the 1920s which I was given from a condemned building on a project several years ago.

5 Do you prefer cooking or baking?

Cooking

6 Do you prefer sweet or savory?

Savory

7 Do you speak any other languages?

English, French, Spanish, and then to a lesser extent I have had conversations in Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Portuguese, Ojibwe, Navajo, Icelandic, German, Italian, Latin, Polish, Russian, Slovak, Arabic, Cantonese,… and I’ve studied way more including Hindi, Hawai’ian, … okay, sorry, I really LOVE language, it’s the gateway to comprehending culture.

8 If you could switch professions, what would you do?

My first career choice was to be a farmer and my second was to be an artist like my uncle.

9 If you could switch science fields, what field would you want to work in?

I used to study archaeology exclusively until my parents expressed an opinion that I should do something with “new work coming”; but I would go back to arch given my love of geotechnical work and history combined.

10 If you got a plane ticket right now, where would it go?

I just landed from Ireland and the UK but… if not going back to Iceland, I want to go see my family in Peru for the first time.

11 If you had one superpower, what would it be?

Articulation. I come from a line of ministers on my maternal side and I believe the ability to articulate should not be underestimated.

12 Is there anything you strongly recommend we watch and/or read and/or listen to?

OUTLANDER. Also, check out my channel Sovereign Stories. I’m trying to update it and it’s not perfect, but we aim to launch it as a podcast soon too. Speaking of which, check out Philosophize This! and Stories of Iceland.

13 It’s your day off. What do you want to do?

I love reading, drawing, running, and studying language charts. Also, I take photography walks often. If my dad is around, our favorite past time is shooting targets in the yard, working on a car, or playing baseball.

14 What are three things you can’t live without?

1. A filled bookshelf of any language
2. The Sky because it is always changing
3. Scratch paper, because I’m an engineer after all.

15 What beverage gives you life?

Guinness. I literally want to do a study on its healing properties. Just because I’m part Irish-American doesn’t make me biased I swear!

16 What book did you read in school that positively shaped you?

A Great Aridness. Excellent interdisciplinary work regarding climate and political topics.

17 What did you want to be when you grew up?

As I mentioned, a farmer. That’s how we grew up and that’s all I knew.

18 What drives you and keeps you going?

Ancestors. I keep photos of them at my desk much to the interest of my coworkers. Even if I didn’t know them, I know they are from where I came and I can’t think without remembering them in some capacity.

19 What got you excited in science?

My dad. He’s a worker in a steel plant. He beat the odds and is smarter than I’ll ever be. He challenged the heck out of me every day to think and be quick at math. Calculators were never allowed in my house.

20 What excites you about science now?

I love publishing papers that are novel — not that I think my ideas are novel, but being able to penetrate a very standard kind of scientific writing world with new ideas related to Indigenous views is incredibly satisfying. It feels mildly rebellious to bring in a different realm of thinking every time I engage with a new or familiar topic.

21 What is a guilty pleasure of yours?

Watching old movies. I’m fascinated with anything 1940s, especially.

22 What is a secret talent of yours?

Singing. My first paid gig was actually as part of a band starting when I was 14. When I graduated from my officer course, I actually sang the national anthem in front of the entire audience and without music. It was horrifying but… hey, I stayed on key.

23 What is your favorite game?

Bejeweled

24 What is the last book you read?

How the Scots Invented the Modern World, the same day I was reading Outlander #3. I’ll admit I’m making judgmental notations, so just because I’m reading it doesn’t mean I agree with it!

25 What is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve received?

Never assume you’ll see someone again. In my house, we say “I will see you Inshaallah” to remind us that nothing is guaranteed and any moment could be the last. Also, we never go to bed angry for the same reason.

26 What is something you’ve always wanted to try but you’ve been too scared to do?

When Team USA flew me to Hong Kong and I ferried to Macau, I was tempted to bungee jump from the tower there. I’m afraid of heights though. I’m also a collegiate pole vaulter who has sky-dived so riddle me that!!

27 What is the best advice for your 18 year old self?

Stop feeling like you owe people so much. Half of them won’t remember you in so many years anyway. Learn to actually put yourself first at times (and I’m still struggling to do it)

28 What is the best way to de-stress?

A salt bath with baby oil and a candle — maybe because when I grew up we couldn’t have the luxury of a full bath like that. Our well would run dry, and we had to boil kettles if we wanted warm water!

29 What is the last thing you watched?

I don’t have TV, but I saw part of a documentary about the Lusitania sinking while I was traveling near where it sank

30 What is the weirdest thing you’ve had in your bag?

I’m not sure if it’s weird but I carried an uncracked walnut back from a remote part of Morocco while I was covering stories from the Imider community there… I still have it on my shelf as a token of friendship

31 What is your favorite animal?

I’ll have to say cats only because I literally rely on their kisses every day…

32 What is your favorite book?

The Bell Jar, but that’s a really difficult question.

33 What is your favorite comfort food?

Späetzle. WITHOUT cheese. For whatever reason I can’t stand it with cheese on it.

34 What is your favorite day of the year?

Halloween. I can feel the spirits…

35 What is your favorite plant?

Portulaca.

36 What is your favorite science fact?

The tallest building in the world (in Dubai) has to regulate when prayer is on certain floors because the sun sets later. Also, if you were sucked into space, the water in ever cell would expand so quickly that you would instantly explode. Yay, science!!

37 What is your favorite season?

Fall

38 What is your favorite smell?

Pine

39 What is your favorite sound?

Water

40 What is your favorite thing about yourself?

Need to do something always — keeps me active

41 What is your favorite word (in any language)?

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch

42 What is your proudest moment?

Carrying an Indigenous flag at the Team USA ceremonies for the first time I’ve ever noted in recorded history — AND receiving a gold medal on a MEN’S team in the same arena

43 What kind of tree would you be?

Ginkgo, unique and ancient at the same time I would love

44 What’s the best thing about where you live?

The sunsets. There is also a ton of wildLIFE in a place where people see little, “desert”, but that isn’t true.

45 Tell us something we probably don’t know.

I’m a Premiere Scottish Highland dancer, taking after the traditions of my grandfather’s paternal line. Some of his ancestors fled the Famine or Ireland as well and my dream is to write a book about that and about the correlation with my Indigenous history as well.

46 Who would you like to see 46 Questions interview next?

@strebic she has been such an inspiration since undergraduate for me