Elaine Eisenbraun

Executive Director

As Nikwasi Initiative’s new Executive Director, Elaine wants to get to know you. You’ll

recognize her around the region when you spy her ready smile. She is excited to live and

work in such a rich cultural corridor, and to share extraordinary stories of people living in

beloved landscapes. 

Elaine started her career as a forester. Each day in the woods, she listened intently and grew

to know the songs of nature; soon she was translating those lessons to others in her work as

Executive Director of Merck Forest and Farmland Center, the 2 million-acre North Fork John

Day Watershed Council, and Portrait Connection — a national healing arts organization.

Along her journey, Elaine created two new region-wide programs to provide up to 50

underserved teens per season with conservation jobs, and now she serves as an advisor on

environmental education to the E.P.A. Her fundraising savvy comes from intensive training in the pursuit of federal funds for rural communities and from dozens of consulting gigs focused on helping small, rural nonprofits create diversified revenues. Elaine has also facilitated forest collaborative groups with disparate voices to help them find connections. Always, her work brings people together and closer to the magic of the land and the beauty of their neighbors.

Moving from a small, solar-powered cabin in the mountains of Oregon, Elaine is ecstatic to return to the hardwood mountains, where rivers carry the stories of the hills to distant valleys. If you are out and about, you might find her jogging in the hills and reciting poetry as she goes. It’s a hobby that she says, “takes her breath away.”

Our Staff

Some Very Special Volunteers Have Joined Nikwasi Initiative!

Nonprofit leaders dream of that rare and special moment when a super-dedicated, extra-special volunteer comes knocking on the door. Well, Nikwasi Initiative must be very fortunate, because out of the blue, not one, but three wonderful new Volunteers have joined our mission and rolled up their sleeves to do some amazing work! Perhaps the ambiance of old Nokwisiyi is settling into our mission, because these participants are extraordinary! Look who's helping out:

Kristi Pfeffer

Kristi is absolutely charmed by the "Mound Culture." From her youth in south Georgia to her present time near Canton, NC, Kristi has felt a deep connection to the long-ago ancient communities. She has studied them and created projects to advance awareness about them. Well, Kristi just happens to be a Graphic Designer and Editor as well! The combination led her to Nikwasi Initiative where she is working on a wonderful, surprise project that will be unveiled with the opening of Nokwisiyi Kiosk in October. We can't wait for you to see it. It just might change your plans for this autumn. Kristi is also designing interpretive signs for the new Kiosk area at the Mound in Franklin.


Hey Kristi! From Everyone at Nikwasi Initiative, THANK YOU for your AMAZING work!

Melody Little

Melody is an Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Member. Born and raised on the Qualla Boundary, she is driven toward a career that benefits her community. Melody is a 2018 High Point University graduate. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Human Relations with a minor in Nonprofit. She plans to expand her nonprofit experience  with Nikwasi and take the knowledge learned to start her own nonprofit! She is interested in many of the intractable issues that beset Native Americans, especially Native Women. In Cherokee tradition, women held great power until the European invasion forced the women into less and less leadership. Melody may just be the person who will one day return the power of women to this amazing community. She is one of those rare young people who you just know is going to have a big impact in her chosen field. Melody is participating in the Nikwasi Initiative Strategic Plan process and helping with project implementation.


Melody, you are an inspiration!

Sunny Jain

Sunny lives far away in Houston, Tx where he is an MBA candidate at the Mays School of Business with a specialty in Finance and Strategy. What nonprofit wouldn't be delighted to have those credentials on board!  Sunny is pulling Nikwasi's historic financial data into an easy-to-read dashboard and also putting his brilliant computer skills to work developing a broad social media platform. Please check us out on: Instagram, Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter to see Sunny's artistic flair at work.


Sunny, thank you for finding Nikwasi Initiative and adding you enthusiasm, logic, and analytic skills to help build the dream!

Our Volunteers


Nikwasi Initiative preserves, protects, and promotes culture and heritage in the original homelands of the Cherokee people.

Using engaged partnerships, Nikwasi Initiative focuses on developing cultural resources for diverse projects from the nationally significant Cultural Corridor along the Little Tennessee River, to restoration of heritage apple species, and widespread cultural collaboration.

© 2020 Nikwasi Initiative