We recently had an opportunity to sit down with newly appointed Northwest Indian College (NWIC) President, Dr. Justin Guillory. He was enthusiastic and eager to share his thoughts on the value of community-based education, athletics, family, tribal sovereignty, and his professional and academic journey.
Where are you from? I grew up on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation in Lapwai, Idaho. When I was 15 years old my mom got a job working for the Squaxin Island tribe, so we moved to Olympia, Washington.
How did growing up there impact you? It was very family oriented. I have two older brothers and a younger sister. My parents are the first in their families to go to college. We hear of first generation students. I am a second-generation college student, so my parents were role models. In terms of education it was very community based. With the families and extended families, it definitely wasn’t individualistic. It was not a “me” based education, it was a “we” based education. And of course growing up I did not realize that. Often times it’s when we look back that we make those kinds of connections. I realize now that growing up, everything that we did was centered on family, community, and relationships. In a broader sense, that experience has shaped my view of higher education and my appreciation of the tribal colleges.
You had a great high school and college athletic career, as well as others in your family. How did that help in your development? I come from an athletic family that really promoted sports. The short story about my dad is that he’s from Houston, Texas and got a scholarship to play football at the University of Idaho, where he met my mom. When he was done with school he got a free agent opportunity with the Dallas Cowboys. Being a kid and having a father who had an opportunity with the Dallas Cowboys really set the bar high. Moving from Lapwai to Olympia was a tough transition. I didn’t know anyone, but my connection was sports. Through sports I made friends and through sports I found my place there.
What is your view of our tribal colleges? Tribal Colleges are tribal sovereignty exercised. If anyone wants to know what tribal sovereignty looks like, this is it. This is the tangible evidence. I deeply admire the Lummi tribal elders and the community for having the bold vision to establish their own tribal college.
What was your first job in the tribal college system? After I graduated with my masters from Washington State University, I went back home to Lapwai where I took a job as the site coordinator for Northwest Indian College at their Nez Perce extended campus site. I was there for three and a half years. And again, working with those students and in my home community really inspired me to pursue my Ph.D. in higher education administration. My older brother, Dr. Raphael Guillory, was the first in our family to obtain a Ph.D., and of course he was very inspirational to me.
How do you regard the American Indian College Fund? Having worked at Northwest Indian College for several years now and knowing the financial challenges that our students face, I’m just really appreciative of the American Indian College Fund’s efforts. We have such bright and talented Native students wanting to pursue higher education in their home community. By no means should finances be a barrier. The Fund raises money to remove that financial barrier so that our students can take steps to become leaders in their communities.
Dr. Guillory’s wife, Sonny Walker-Guillory, is a financial literacy coordinator at Northwest Indian College. We had the honor of talking with her last year. See the interview here http://www.collegefund.org/success_stories/detail/55