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Anthony "Thosh" Collins self-portrait. Submitted Photo

Planting Ancestral O’odham Knowledge Back into the Community

Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community member Anthony “Thosh” Collins is the owner and artistic director at Thosh Collins Photography/Thoshography; co-founder of Well for Culture, an Indigenous wellness initiative; and a Native Wellness Institute board member. Collins’ photography can be found across the nation and throughout the Community. He has helped to shed light on his Community through health, wellness and photography with the help of various partnerships and social-media outlets.

The story begins even before Collins was born, when his great-grandparents farmed on their lands and even had a small store. Generations passed, and that traditional lifestyle and knowledge vanished with time—until recently.

About six years ago, Tony Collins, Thosh’s father, wanted to plant again on his property. The family inherited the interest in farming and planting traditional foods.

“When I was younger, my dad was active and encouraged us to always be active,” Collins said. “His words were, ‘You can’t always be laying around and watching TV.’ I was involved with the spiritual runners group here in Salt River and started playing basketball for Salt River Pride. So I had an early active life and I started to notice that it’s just something that I naturally excelled at. My mom always cooked real food at home as well. We didn’t really eat out a lot, and we were discouraged from having too much soda and junk food.”

As a teen, Collins noticed that the health decline in the Community was really starting to affect it. That’s when he became passionate about health and fitness and implemented a healthier lifestyle. He wanted to help his Community.

His passion was photography and he started Thoshography, which specializes in editorial and fashion photography, as well as portraiture, street photography and specific documentation of Indigenous cultures. “The idea of [Thoshography] was to carry our teachings with it. The teachings that come from our way of life, our himdag,” he said.

Subjects of his published portraits are impressive, packed with a Who’s Who of Indian Country. They include musicians Oveous Maximus, Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas and Q Violin (QVLN); actors Adam Beach, Irene Bedard, Alex Meraz, Tanis Parenteau, Martin Sensmeier and Roseanne Supernault; and Miss Universe 2015 Ashley Callingbull. He has also worked with fashion designers B. Yellowtail, Sho Sho Esquiro, Orlando Dugi, Kristin Dorsey and Szoldier. His latest project includes photographing basketball star Jude Schimmel for Nike N7’s equality campaign.

His work has been featured in multiple magazines and he has done work for Filson, Native America Calling, Sterlin Harjo’s “The Cuts” podcast and Abel James’ “The Fat-Burning Man Show.”

Collins has also partnered with many tribes throughout Indian Country and organizations like Nike and Adidas. He wishes to inspire and encourage.

“Photography is a way to tell a story and share concepts and ideas that come from our ways of life and may have evolved a little bit,” he said. “I think all Native people are visual. I see photography as a tool and platform to share concepts. It’s not meant to replace traditional storytelling; if anything, I hope that it helps strengthen and fortifies it. Thoshography is more than just a business and company; it’s a business that’s for a cause.”

About four years ago, Collins and his partner, Chelsea Lugar, a co-founder of Well for Culture, along with actor Martin Sensmeier, brought their dreams of Well for Culture to fruition. After brainstorming and putting all their ideas into this initiative, they developed a movement that brought their ancestral ways back into health and fitness, making it more Indigenous-based.

“The concept of good health that we were given by the dominant society was really compartmentalized and it was far different from the inherently healthy lifestyle our ancestors were living,” Collins said. “Our Native people everywhere were being led in the direction of following the Western style of health. I used to think, ‘How come they don’t ever talk about our foods, our original foods? Why doesn’t anyone bring up the fact that our people were runners?’ We were inherently healthy, but why are we not bringing that into the conversation when it comes to getting our people healthy?”

Within the last four years, Collins and his younger brother, Amson Collins, started planting crops. “This spring we’re going to be planting on a whole acre, all of our corn, beans and squash, and I think that will be the largest plot of original O’odham foods that’s been farmed in this area for a long time,” Collins said.

Collins is set to be a father shortly and plans to start off his little one on a healthier path.

“By the time the food comes up, that would be around the time baby will be eating [its] first solids,” he said. “So the first solids will be what we plant. The purpose is to condition [the baby’s] palate to recognize real food taste and to inhabit their gut microorganisms with the proper bacteria that will give them good health and immunity defense at an early age. That’s why we’re putting in a lot of work at the family field there, because we want baby to grow up with that culture, that lifestyle to know that this is how we get our food—we grow it.”

Collins will be rolling out a fitness and language campaign this spring that encourages people to utilize their language while being active. He said, “We already have it for O’odham.”

“I always think about giving back to Salt River because Salt River raised me. Through various sports, the Salt River Youth Council and even financially, Salt River has supported me to go to school in photography. So I would like to represent and serve the Community in a good way,” he said.

Instagram: @WellForCulture