Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: We are Inatai Foundation. This change is about more than just a name. It’s about a new beginning in an ongoing evolution we’re excited to share.
Our journey to become Inatai Foundation began last year, but to truly understand our new name and what it means to us, we need to go further back.
Inatai comes from Chinuk Wawa, an Indigenous language used in Washington and beyond since the 1800s. Chinuk Wawa connected and convened Native and non-Native people alike, borrowing from many languages and cultures, including Chinook, French, English, Chehalis, Nuu-chah-nulth, Michif, Hawaiian, Kalapuya, and more.
Throughout Washington today, many places, landmarks, and monuments have Chinuk Wawa names, and the language continues to bring people together. The Chinook and other Native people in Oregon and Washington share the language in common and are working to pass it on to future generations.
Inatai means “across” or “other side.” Choosing our name from Chinuk Wawa—a language rooted in connection—helps us communicate our drive to bring Washington communities together. The word “Inatai” expresses our belief that powerful communities working together will move our state, and all of us, to a place of greater equity and justice.
From the beginning, our foundation has operated with three goals: to be statewide, community-driven, and equity-focused. As some of you may remember, our foundation was formed from the proceeds of Group Health Cooperative’s sale to Kaiser Permanente. Inspired by the cooperative’s legacy, we used “health equity” as the term to describe our work. We tried to create a broader definition of health to include more than just health care.
Yet, as we connected with and listened to community leaders across Washington, we learned that health equity was simply not big enough to hold people’s dreams and plans for improving their lives and communities. Through community visits, gatherings, and conversations with community leaders across the state, we affirmed that achieving equity of any kind meant achieving racial justice—that they were inseparable goals to pursue.
Racial justice was already essential to our work as a core part of how we defined health equity. But we needed to take responsibility for our commitment to racial justice more clearly—to own our part in driving racial justice and to be accountable to grantees doing that work. To do so, we revised our mission and value statements in 2022.
With that revision, we began in earnest to evolve beyond health. Yet, our name signaled to many organizations that they were only eligible for funding if they work in medical health. The name “Group Health Foundation” made it more difficult for us to reach the organizations we wanted to reach. So, we looked for a name that would honor our past and set the tone for our future. Inatai is that name.
Too often, Indigenous words are co-opted by non-Native organizations without honoring their origins. We sought and received permission from the Chinook Nation, heirs to the Chinookan people at the mouth of the Columbia River where Chinuk Wawa originates, to use Inatai as our name. Showing our gratitude was an essential part of that process. We thank Chinook Nation Chairman Tony A. (naschio) Johnson, a Chinuk Wawa language teacher and our colleague, for helping us arrive at this new name. We are forever grateful to the Chinook Nation for allowing us to use this word.
Last spring, our team gathered with Chinook tribal councilmembers and their families in Bay Center, Washington to formally ask for and receive permission to borrow from the Chinuk Wawa language. The Chinook community in attendance spanned four generations and offered wisdom from their past, talked about what they are celebrating in the present, and described their hopes for the future as they continue to fight for federal recognition. What the Chinook people shared with our foundation that day will stay with us always. For as long as we are Inatai, we will make an annual contribution to the Chinook Nation.
Even though our name has changed, one thing that has not and will not change is who we support. We will continue to prioritize funding to Washington organizations led by and for people most affected by inequities. Since we began our work, we’ve built relationships in every part of the state and granted $220 million to community organizations—with more than 80 percent of funding going to people-of-color-led organizations.
Our team, based throughout the state, is one of the most committed and diverse teams in philanthropy. Together, we advance four distinct areas of work: relationship building, policy and advocacy, investment management, and grantmaking. We will continue growing our capacity, so we can be the best possible partner in the work ahead.
We are proud to have started to earn the trust of Washington communities and continue to learn their hopes and dreams for the future. Because we listen at every step of the way, we now have a 50-year vision and a plan we hope is big enough to hold their dreams and support communities to be more powerful.
We will share more as we put into place that vision and plan, informed by thousands of community voices. Coupled with our 501(c)(4) status, which allows us to advocate for policy and systemic changes, we are ready to step more fully into our role as a partner to communities deciding their own futures. We know the power of our collective action will create a better Washington for all of us.
We began our renaming process with curiosity and enthusiasm, looking for a word that was Washington-specific, aware that the places we occupy have histories that don’t belong to us. We searched for a word that would bring people together and symbolize our hope for a future where Washington communities are powerful and we are partners in the solutions they design.
We are Inatai Foundation. We are going forward together. And we’ve only just begun.