Political Party: Democratic
Relationship status: Boyfriend
Nikki Santos’s career, love life and recreational activities are all intertwined in her Native American heritage.
“I was raised in a very traditional home with a very traditional Native American upbringing,” she explains. “I knew that I had an obligation to do something for Indian people and to work for them.”
There are approximately 2,000 people in her tribe, the Coeur d’Alene, who originated in Idaho’s northern panhandle and spread into western Montana and eastern Washington state.
“When you’re out here, you’re not out here for yourself — you’re out here representing your family and your tribe,” she says. “I carry that with me in everything I do.”
Santos represents her tribe at powwows across the country, where she performs traditional dances passed down by her family. The dress she wears was also worn by her grandmother and great-grandmother.
The Santos family dance is called the “high-step,” and it mimics how women used to walk through the fields — cautiously, so as not to step on anything dangerous. Santos regularly wins the smaller regional contests and in April was the second runner-up in the Miss Indian World Pageant for 18- to 25-year-olds.
Of course, there are fringe benefits to the festivals. Santos met her boyfriend of four years — a drummer at the powwows and a Senate Indian Affairs Committee staffer — at a Stanford University powwow, the largest student-run Indian gathering in the country.
To stay healthy, Santos couples all that time on her feet with a straight-edge diet.
“I eat healthy and I drink a lot of water. I try to stay away from coffee, alcohol and soda,” she says. “But I’m from Seattle, so sometimes I can’t help myself around coffee.”
— Jonathan Easley