Native American Heritage Month Spotlight: Starlivia Kaska

Nov. 15, 2023
Starlivia Kaska

The College of Science is celebrating Native American Heritage Month by featuring some of the College’s outstanding students with Native American roots. Our first featured student is Starlivia Kaska, a senior who is studying Environmental Hydrology and Water Resources with a minor in Geosciences.  

The College of Science spoke with Kaska to learn more about her journey to the University of Arizona, growing up as a member of the Havasupai Tribe, and some of her favorite memories.

Starlivia Kaska

Environmental Hydrology & Water Resources


College of Science: Tell us a little about yourself, your background, and your journey to the University of Arizona. 

Kaska: I am a member of the Havasupai Tribe. I was raised in the Grand Canyon area, spending most of my summers in Supai, Arizona. I received a high school education at Grand Canyon Highschool in the National Park’s South Rim. After high school I entered the work force and then was fortunate enough to gain experience as an intern working in Grand Canyon National Park’s water utilities department. Then I gained more work experience in the offices of the Chairman, Vice-Chairman, and the Havasupai Tribal Council. Through my time as an intern at the National Park and my time with the Havasupai Tribe I came to learn about water distribution, water quality, and water litigation. These experiences ultimately lead me to pursue a degree in Environmental Hydrology and Water Resources at the University of Arizona. The University of Arizona was my number one choice as it has one of the top hydrology departments in the world.


COS: When looking back on your childhood and spending time with family, are there any favorite traditions or memories that stick out to you?

Kaska: My favorite memories are from spending time with my father and grandfather in an area known as Pasture Wash, on the eastern plateaus of my reservation. Most people are familiar with the Blue-Green waters of Supai, Arizona when they think of the Havasupai people, but our ancestors spent most of their time above the canyon walls. My father’s family spent time on the plateau herding cattle, hunting, and living. Rounding up of the cattle happened only a few times out of the year which made it a special time for me. The reason these are my favorite memories is because I loved riding horses in the open range, spending the nights under the stars, the smell of the open fire in the evenings, and spending time with my grandfather. He knew things about the land and would teach us in our language the names of the area. My father in turn repeated what his father told us. Being out there with nature is one of my favorite things to do. It also gives me an appreciation of how I was raised, to have spent time there and to learn. When I think about it, spending time there is a way to remember the life the Havasupai people once lived. I hope to start my own herd of cattle and horses so I can share these types of memories with my own family in the future.


COS: Who are some of the people who have made the greatest impact on your life?

Kaska: The people who have made the greatest impact on my life are first, Brad Houston, who was a great high-school teacher who taught me math and science. His openness in teaching these subjects opened my mind to the sciences and motivated me to consider a college education in science . Second, is Don E. Watahomigie, who has been the Chairman of the Havasupai Tribe several times. Throughout his time on the Havasupai Tribal council, he has gained a lot of wisdom and was able to teach me the history of our tribal government. As a leader he was honest, stern, patient, and respected the laws that govern the Havasupai tribe. He was able to instill in me these virtues that I believe made him a great leader. Finally, my daughter, who motivates me to keep going and to be a good influence on the next generation.


COS: What was it that drew you to your area of research and expertise?

Kaska: I am currently interested in ground and surface water interactions with a focus on water quality and source identification. This interest stems from current issues the Havasupai Tribe is facing with the Havasu Creek, their only source of potable water. I conducted research at Biosphere2’s Landscape Evolution Observatory, which looked at how to measure the amount of water in the subsurface at the landscape scale using sensor data. This project was important for understanding how we can implement landscape scale storage-discharge experiments in a lab setting. The combination of my work experience with the Havasupai tribe and my experience with landscape scale subsurface hydrology have all influenced my current interests in groundwater and surface water interactions. It is my overall goal to study how contaminants may or may not be transported from the surface into springs and discharged into the Grand Canyon area.