Courtesy of CITC.
Courtesy of CITC.

CIRI shareholder Nikki Graham hadn’t even been to her first meeting of the Alaska Native Professional Association (ANPA) when one of the organization’s directors encouraged her to consider joining the board.

For someone whose goal is to one day be an executive and part of a leadership team, it was an ideal opportunity. Today, Nikki is ANPA’s newest board member.

“This seemed like a valuable experience that also aligns with my passion for creating opportunities for young Alaska Native people,” Nikki says. It was what drove her to join ANPA in the first place. Established in 1998, ANPA’s mission is to build relationships, leadership and community involvement among Alaska Native professionals and organizations.

Nikki has felt compelled to help others reach their potential for as long as she can remember.

“I was never one of those people who woke up and knew I wanted to be a fireman or something,” she says. “But I’ve always been in the business of people.”

She worked at Alaska Regional Hospital, then managed a physician’s office; there, Nikki grew to understand how a simple kind word or smile could mean so much. Later, she let her interest in cooking take her to culinary school in Los Angeles, Calif. “Even that was about people,” she says. “Through cooking something comforting and delicious, you can make people happy.”

Upon returning to Alaska, she worked as a benefits consultant, but wasn’t entirely happy. “It was rewarding, but really hard work,” she recounts. “Helping small businesses navigate confusing, expensive health care programs—it was really wearing on me.”

So when an opportunity at Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC) came about, it seemed meant to be. “My dad told me all his life, he always wanted me to work for CIRI,” Nikki recalls.

Working at a CIRI-affiliated nonprofit, not only would Nikki be involved with the CIRI family, but she’d be able to create opportunities for CIRI shareholders and descendants and other young Alaska Native people. Her first chance came when her supervisor, CIRI shareholder and CITC Vice President for Institutional Advancement Tabetha Toloff, tasked her with creating CITC’s new summer internship program. Nikki jumped at the chance.

“I’m not ever afraid of the unknown,” Nikki explains. She leveraged partnerships with other organizations and businesses—including her convenient connection to CIRI’s year-old internship program, developed by her sister, CIRI shareholder Darla Graham, CIRI’s Talent Management manager. This summer, CITC will offer internships to college students and graduates in areas like sociology and social work, nursing, engineering, construction and project management, accounting and information technology.

In her new positions, both at CITC and on the ANPA board, Nikki is determined to help shape a positive future for Alaska Native people. “The young leaders we’re growing today are the ones who will eventually run these boards and organizations,” she says. “They’ll have a responsibility to take over from the Elders when they step down. So we have to prepare those young people to take over.”

For more information about CITC’s Internship Program, visit CITC’s website at