Mi’kmaq Heather Augustine is “taking a knee” as part of the Kneeling Art Photography Project, an exhibit of photographs of a variety of Mainers showing support for Black Lives Matter, on display through Friday, Aug. 27, at the Union of Maine Visual Artists Gallery at Portland Media Center in Portland. Submitted photo

As a Mi’kmaq and a member of the Elsipogtog First Nation of New Brunswick, Canada, Heather Augustine knows a thing or two about marginalized people.

Augustine, a New Gloucester resident, is a co-founder of a First Nation youth group which brings young people and their families together to share community. And now she is also community organizer for Wabanaki Reach, an organization supporting “the self-determination of Wabanaki people through education, truth-telling, restorative justice, and restorative practices in Wabanaki and Maine communities,” according to its website.

Among her many projects, she recently posed for a photograph as part of the Kneeling Art Photography Project, a collection of photographs of Mainers from diverse backgrounds and communities “taking a knee” in support of Black Lives Matter. The exhibition is on display through Friday, Aug. 27, at the Union of Maine Visual Artists Gallery at Portland Media Center in Portland.

The Kneeling Art Photography Project has over 80 photographs of Mainers “taking a knee,” taken by ten Maine photographers. Accompanying each photograph is a statement by the person being featured. The exhibit can also be viewed online at www.thekneelingartphotography.com.

“I started working on bringing Native people in mid-coast and Southern Maine together to share our stories, our culture, and our lives with one another. I’ve been nurturing that community for almost three years now. This has been the joy of my life. My reserve is in Canada and I have grown up in Maine most of my life, disconnected from my community,” she said. “The inspiration for this group was out of a need to nurture community for other natives who are also living with that disconnection.”

Augustine became aware of broad oppression in 2001, inspired by her participation in her first march and rally where she heard Hurricane Carter speak. Hurricane Carter was a boxer and was wrongfully convicted of murder and released after 20 years in prison.

“It was an honor to meet Hurricane Carter,” Augustine said. “I became committed to ending police brutality and racial profiling in the criminal justice system.”

Another influence on Heather’s thinking and work was Jane Elliot, a diversity educator and school teacher known for her “blue eyes, brown eyes” exercise.

“I ‘took a knee’ to show my solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. As a Mi’kmaq woman and mother, I participated in ‘taking a knee’ to help dismantle white supremacy, state-sanctioned violence and the dehumanization of black people,” she said.

In her support of marginalized people, Augustine says that “it’s not enough just to claim that you’re against racism. The time has come for real accountability. The narrative needs to be shifted in focus to one that is historically accurate and schools, faith organizations and families have vital roles to play here.”

Of her choice of location for the photograph, she says, “It was taken on land that will be established as Wabanaki community garden in the spring of 2021.” The community garden is called Mawita’nej Epij’ij which means “welcome to the gathering place.”

Augustine has four children and attended the University of Southern Maine.

The UMVA Gallery at Portland Media Center is located at 516 Congress St., Portland.

Abdukadir Ali, far left, of Maine Youth Justice and Maine Inside Out, takes a knee alongside other members from those groups in Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston. Submitted photo


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