Spokane Journal of Business

2023 Rising Star Cola Boyer: Program head shapes emerging leaders

Empowering approach lifts tribal professionals

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Cola Boyer says she has far exceeded her own expectations.

The 35-year-old administrator for The Kalispel Tribe of Indians Leadership Academy has an undergraduate degree in race and culture from Eastern Washington University, along with certificates in diversity, equity, and inclusion. She also holds a master’s degree in business leadership from Whitworth University.

“I want my nephews and my niece to see that they can do anything and everything that they want in this world. There’s nothing stopping them,” says Boyer. “It’s not that I didn’t have that growing up, but I didn’t even see myself going to college; it wasn’t a reality.”

As a Shoshone-Bannock tribal member, Boyer grew up in southern Idaho, on the Fort Hall reservation between Pocatello and Idaho Falls. When Boyer was 15, her family moved to Ione, Washington, where she graduated from Selkirk High School.

“Really small town, but I loved it. That is kind of where I made the connection with the Kalispel Tribe, though,” says Boyer. “They were very humble and welcoming when it came to a new family living in Pend Oreille County, another Native family, and so we really latched onto them.”

At EWU, Boyer was president of the Native American Student Association, and in her time at Whitworth, she received the John Hengesh award for servant leadership, which was voted on by her classmates.

Boyer started working for Northern Quest Resort & Casino answering phones 14 years ago, while she was pursuing her undergraduate degree. She has worked in the talent-development department at Northern Quest for the last seven years and has held the role of administrator for The Kalispel Tribe of Indians Leadership Academy for three years.

“Every day is fun. Every day is different,” says Boyer, adding that she gets to wear many hats in her position, whether that is coordinating the logistics of the academy or using her human resources skills to help employees. 

The goal of the academy is to help all leaders in the organization reach their full leadership potential.

When the leadership academy started in 2016, it provided professional development and training for those in management positions at Northern Quest. Boyer has worked to expand the training to anyone in the organization who wants the opportunity to grow, not just those in management. She caters the academy and its classes to what the tribe’s employees need.

“What makes Cola great at leadership is she makes other people feel like they can lead, and she empowers other people,” says Sinéad Voorhees, the assistant dean for graduate studies in business programs at Whitworth University. “She is that person walking through the crowd saying, ‘it’s your turn, you can do this.’”

While her academic and career accomplishments are many, she says her most meaningful and personal accomplishment has been starting a multiple sclerosis support group for the Native American and Spokane communities in April of 2023. 

Boyer was diagnosed with MS in 2009 and understands the challenges that the chronic, potentially disabling disease of the central nervous system brings.

“As a Native American woman, myself, your people have different cultures, traditions, or beliefs—not everything sits on medicine or science,” says Boyer.

Boyer has goals of launching a podcast with her sister this fall to talk about the struggles Indigenous people face when coping with the disease.

“People sit at my heart, and to know that the Native American community and people in Spokane know that they have somewhere they can go or someone they can talk to has been most impactful,” says Boyer.

Boyer’s other goals include: Having her position at the Kalispel Tribe become its own entity, rather than part of talent development; continuing to expand the academy’s annual leadership conference to other tribes and business professionals in the Spokane area; and to become a human resources director at some point.

She also is in the process of joining the Spokane chapter of Executive Women’s International and the Inland Northwest Society for Human Resource Management.

Eventually, she wants to take what she is learning here to her tribe in southern Idaho. 

“I want to be that people-central individual,” she says. 

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