What does it mean to be an ally?
Poet Anne Funderburk describes how two former Maine State legislators, one Native and one non-Native, helped her see her history in a new light
Anne Funderburk’s journey to becoming an ally began when she took a class entitled “Women of the Dawn,” taught by the late Christina Baker at the Acadia Senior College.
As part of the class, students were asked to write “portage” pieces, using canoeing as a metaphor, to document where they were in their knowledge and thinking about Wabanaki people when they entered class, what they needed to throw overboard and what was still missing from their canoe.
They were then introduced to Donna Loring, a Penobscot elder who had served in the State Legislature with Christina. Donna came to listen to the portage pieces, mostly written by older white women and men.
Anne recalls Donna’s reaction, “She was in disbelief that there were white people writing and talking about unpacking their white privilege.”
Members of this class organized themselves and became The Portagers, sharing stories of their journey in venues around Mount Desert Island and publishing them in a book, “Voices Yearning To Be Heard.”
Donna introduced the Portagers to the work of Maine-Wabanaki REACH when she invited Denise Altvater and Esther Attean to speak to their group in the Fall of 2011. In April of 2012, the Portagers sponsored a “standing room only” presentation by Denise and Esther to the Acadia Senior College’s program, “Food For Thought,” which was recorded on CD. In June they organized a showing of the film, “Invisible,” to a crowd of 135 Mount Desert Island residents at the Northeast Harbor Library, with a panel discussion by Chief Brenda Commander of the Houlton Band of Maliseet; Richard Silliboy, elder of the Mi’kmaq; Donna Loring, elder and council member of the Penobscot Nation; and Gunnar Hansen, co-creator of the film.
The Portagers group is seeking ways to best support the work of bringing truth, healing and change to Maine.
Anne explains their motivation to become allies, because “Indians are still here, still alive. … What is happening today will be tomorrow’s history.”
Anne believes in being an ally to redress 500 years of abuses, injustice and brutality.
“I come from ancestry that includes two races of oppressors, British and Portuguese,” she said. ” Although I am not personally responsible, it was MY ancestors who did these things, from which I continue to benefit. … This is unfair, and I have always despised unfairness.”
Anne is helping to educate her peers about Wabanaki history, white privilege and the Doctrine of Discovery, both with the Portagers and through her church.
– by REACH Co-Director Esther Attean