Meet Tony A. (naschio) Johnson
Until Feb. 1, 2023, we were Group Health Foundation. This post was written under our former identity. To learn more about our new name, read our announcement here.
A member of the Chinook Indian Nation, Tony (naschio) was born into a family and community driven by social justice. In the 1890s, his great-great grandfather was among a group of people who hired his tribe’s first lawyers to fight for their sovereignty and federal recognition. He knows firsthand, “the despair and depths of frustration that come from living in a marginalized and underrepresented community.”
Tony is eager to build on his experiences as an activist, his understanding of communities experiencing injustices, and his deep connections across the state to promote the cultural health of Washington’s diverse communities.
“I think all of us—certainly everybody involved with the Foundation—know that communities need to determine their own needs and priorities,” says Tony. “The idea of facilitating access to philanthropy for rural communities on their own terms, while assisting in the development of significant processes and projects that ultimately affect health outcomes of rural and marginalized communities, is something that drives me personally.”
While Tony admits that, “his path is surely different from many folks who work in philanthropy,” his career in cultural and community health are a natural precursor to a program officer role at the Foundation.
Tony’s traditional learning started early while visiting elders and attending meetings with long-time Chinook council member and Tony’s father, Gary Johnson. His art career began with attending the University of Washington and apprenticing under renowned Native American artist and relative, Marvin Oliver. During college Tony would often return home to continue his teaching with community elders and culture keepers. He has created significant artworks for Portland State University, the Fort Clatsop National Memorial, the Port of Portland Headquarters, and the Native American Cultural Center at Oregon State University, among others. His current creation is a large-scale installation reflective of an oversized Chinookan canoe carrying cultural heroes from the Columbia River that will be displayed in front of the newly-renovated Burke Museum. The teachings derived from his elders have sustained his career.
Tony is known regionally as a champion of the preservation and revitalization of Indigenous culture and language. At the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde in Oregon, he helped establish a model language immersion school and compiled a first-of-its-kind Chinuk Wawa dictionary as spoken by tribal elders. Most recently, Tony served as director of the Education and Heritage Department for the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe. He is also active with his own tribe, serving as chairman of the Tribal Council, as well as chairman of the Cultural Committee.
Tony lives above the Willapa River with his wife and children, where, he says, “we are driven by our ancestor’s lifeways and traditional foodways.”