Nikki Santos


Nikki’s Indian name is khwhele’ which means Meadow Lark. She is a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, and is also Kalispel, Yakama, Nisqually, Cowlitz, Squaxin Island and Taino. She is a direct descendant of Chief Spokane, Chief Ignace, Chief Kamayakin and Chief Leschi. Nikki takes pride standing on the shoulders of her ancestors, honoring the foundation they have laid and being as a vessel for her grandmothers to uplift the next generation. With a true passion to support Native youth and youth-led programming, Nikki serves as the Executive Director at the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute. Prior to her appointment as Executive Director, Nikki was Acting Director, Associate Director and Program Manager at CNAY. Before coming to the Aspen Institute, Nikki served in several capacities at the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, including Student Success Program Director, Federal/Tribal & Special Initiatives Associate, Advocacy Associate, and Student Outreach Coordinator. Nikki sits on the Partnership with Native Americans Board of Directors, an Advisor for Doris Duke Charitable Fund’s Indigenous Peoples Portfolio, Advisor for REI Co-Op Action Fund, a Commissioner for the Aspen Institute’s K-12 Climate Action,  Co-Chair for the Aspen Institute’s Forum on Women and Girls, Artist Ambassador for NYCLU,  is a proud committee member for the Miss Indian World Pageant for the Gathering of Nations Pow-wow and promotes other organizations in advisory capacities.

As Executive Director, Nikki works closely with the Board of Advisors, manages staff, and sets the vision, strategy, and priorities for the Center. Nikki oversees finances, manages development of communications, advocacy, programs and is the lead in resource development, partnership development and collaborative strategies. Nikki has worked on behalf of her people her whole life. Her biggest inspiration comes from her daughter, Aplnmarimn’tsu’tn (Carries the Medicine).