- "Kaya" redirects here. For the doll, see Kaya'aton'my (doll).
Personality and Facts
Kaya (pronounced KY-yah) is a Native American girl of the Nimíipuu, or Nez Perce tribe. Her stories are set prior to permanent settlement of the area by white European-Americans. The stories are post-European contact, as evidenced by the fact the tribe caretakes for horses and her grandmother has pock-marks from prior contact that has led to disease spread.
Kaya is a very active young girl, fitting with an outdoor lifestyle. She swims in the river every morning with the other girls. She cares greatly for animals, especially horses. She likes her grandmother's stories.
Kaya many times acts before she thinks, getting her into trouble many times through the series. In Meet Kaya, her rash actions get her in trouble, earning a switch for all the children from Whip Woman and the disparaging nickname "Magpie" which she tries desperately to get rid of. Later, her rash actions get her and Speaking Rain kidnapped by another tribe. Kaya is prone to boast or brag to seem important. She hopes to become a strong, courageous leader of her people.
Kaya tries to seem strong, even when she is feeling at her worst. Remarks made by the boys often hurt her feelings.
Kaya was awarded with the name of her heroine, Swan Circling, and is going to use it when she is ready.
Kaya deeply cares about her family and friends. She is best friends with her sister Speaking Rain and they share many secrets with each other. She is also friends with Two Hawks.
American Girl characterizes her as ambitious and resourceful, adventurous, and daring with a generous spirit; a featured video describes her as true-hearted, and American Girl e-cards describe her also as loyal and clever.
Family and Friends
- Toe-ta: Kaya's father.
- Eetsa: Kaya's mother.
- Brown Deer: Kaya's older sister.
- Wing Feather and Sparrow: Kaya's younger twin brothers.
- Speaking Rain: Kaya's blind adopted sister.
- Kalutsa: Kaya's paternal grandfather.
- Aalah: Kaya's paternal grandmother.
- Pi-lah-ka Kaya's maternal grandfather.
- Kautsa Kaya's maternal grandmother.
- Tall Branch: Kaya's maternal aunt
- Cut Cheek: Kaya's brother-in-law and Brown Deer's husband.
Friends and Other Characters
- Steps High: Kaya's horse.
- Swan Circling: A warrior in Kaya's tribe.
- Two Hawks: A captive boy.
- Lone Dog: A dog Kaya befriends.
- Tatlo: Kaya's pet dog.
- White Braids: An older woman who cares for Speaking Rain.
See: List of Kaya's Books
- Main article: Kaya'aton'my (doll)
- See: Kaya's Collection
Kaya had an eight-member advisory board. Members included:
- Lillian A. Ackerman, associate professor, adjunct, in the department of anthropology at Washington State University;
- Vivian Adams, Yakama tribal member, former curator of Native Heritage, High Desert Museum;
- Rodney Cawston, Colville Confederated Tribes;
- Constance G. Evans, retired IHS family nurse practitioner and former Nez Perce language assistant and instructor at Lewis-Clark State College;
- Dianne Mallickan, park ranger and cultural interpreter at Nez Perce National Historical Park;
- Ann McCormack, cultural arts coordinator for the Nez Perce tribe;
- Frances Paisano, Nez Perce tribal elder and retired educator; and
- Rosa Yearout, Nez Perce tribal elder at the M-Y Sweetwater Appaloosa Ranch.
Kaya took five to six years to develop, placing the start of her development in 1996 or 1997. At that time, most historical characters took three years to develop. American Girl representatives first met with Nez Perce tribal members before they agreed to work with the company. According to Ann McCormack, these initial conversations took place about five times over the course of a year and a half, and many Nez Perce were initially unfamiliar with the company. McCormack also met with the representatives, and she took their proposal to the tribe's executive council for approval.
Janet Shaw met with the advisory board before she started to write Kaya's books. McCormack recalled that Shaw said she also read 96 books on the Nez Perce prior to their first meeting. Kaya's story developed out of stories the advisory board shared that were passed down to them or to friends in other tribes. Advisory board members reviewed manuscripts and provided feedback, such as telling Shaw that an early version of Kaya spoke too disrespectfully to her grandmother. Kaya's summoning whistle for Steps High was inspired by a whistle Rodney Cawston had used for a horse to whom he was close; he was able to call his horse to him even after the horse had been sold and they were in another part of the state. Kaya's hair color was also based on Cawston's hair; he cut a small lock of it for the company to use as a reference. The board helped developed Kaya's unique face mold, which has a broader face and shorter nose than previous molds. Kaya's unique mold also shows her smiling with her mouth closed; McCormack explained that being reserved is considered a sign of respect among the Nez Perce when you meet a new person. Part of Kaya's research team also visited the Lolo Trail in the Rocky Mountains, which was a traditional travel route for the Nez Perce.
Rosa Yearout requested that Kaya's story be set pre-European contact; the board wanted to show the Nez Perce culture flourishing at its height. In 2017, Dianne Mallickan reflected on this choice, saying, "I feel like the storyline was very, very important - and it's actually part of our healing." The board also requested that her books' history sections include information on contemporary Nez Perce children and culture so readers would know the tribe continued to exist and thrive. 
- Kaya is marketed as the first American Girl, properly acknowledging that Native and Indigenous American people were in North America before any European contact or settlements.
- Kaya's books are set in a time and place that is not technically part of America yet; at the time, some European contact had been made but the Pacific Northwest was still unclaimed by any European nation. The area did not officially become part of the US until the Oregon Country was given to the US as part of the Oregon Treaty of 1846.
- Many of Kaya's books have titles that differ from the then-set format (Kaya's Escape, Kaya Shows the Way, Kaya's Hero, etc.); this led to later books diverging from the title format that had been carried through Kit Kittredge. Her series was also the first to be written and released simultaneously; previous dolls debuted with just their first three books.
- Kaya officially debuted on Sept. 3, 2002, at an event in Lapwai, Idaho, on the Nez Perce reservation. 
- American Girl has maintained some connection with the Nez Perce tribe; the tribe has hosted events to introduce children to Kaya and her books, such as on the 15th anniversary of her release. 
- Despite the research done for the series, there are several notable inaccurate portrayals, as specified by American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL) founded by Dr. Debbie Reese, which can be read here: American Girls Collection: Kaya.
- Kaya despises this nickname.
- The Nimipuu tribe lived in an area covering parts of what is now Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, with the majority in Idaho.
- American Girl tends to hold her birthday celebration in the summer, around the Nimíipuu Salmon Runs Celebration. Some locations specify the celebration to August 13 or 15th, the latter being when the series was presented to the Nez Perce people.
- The Ghost Wind Stallion takes place during the Summer of 1767.
- The Official YouTube video by American Girl places the emphasis on the first syllable.
- Nimipuu often changed names and gave names even into adulthood that marked special events, like doing good deeds or showing acts of courage.
- "Meet Kaya, the authentic Nez Perce doll," USA Today, 2002.
- "Kaya returns home to tell her story," Lewiston Tribune, 2017.
- American Girl Fan Club podcast, episode 5: Kaya's Story.
- "All Dolled Up: The Enduring Triumph of American Girl," Racked, 2015
- "Lolo Trail and Pass History," NPS.
- "Lolo Trail Corridor," US Forest Service.
|American Girl Historical Characters|
Caroline Abbott ♦ ★
|★ Archived / ♦ Part of the BeForever Collection|
|BeForever-Revised and Released Historical Characters|
Molly McIntire ♦ ★
|★ Archived | ♦ Re-released for BeForever | ♥ First Released in BeForever|