Nikki Santos

Executive Director


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 was recognized as a 2023 Social Impact Woman to Watch by NonprofitHR, a 2023 National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development 40 Under 40, a Co-Chair for the Aspen Institute’s Forum on Women and Girls, an sits on the Inclusion Advisory Council for Pinterest, a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Mountain Partnership,  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).