Across the nation, many statues are being torn down due to the controversial historical figures that they represent. One such statue in Bangor is a monument to commemorate Estaban Gomez, a 16th century Portuguese explorer who sailed under the Spanish flag and was the first European to set foot in Maine. In June, Tribal Ambassador Maulian Dana of the Penobscot Nation was the first person to publicly call for the removal of the statue bearing Gomez’s name. She advocates for its removal due to the way Gomez treated the Indigenous people he encountered in his explorations. Upon arriving in New England, Gomez kidnapped a large group of Native Americans and brought them back to Spain. Only 58 of the Indigenous people he kidnapped survived the voyage to Spain, and upon arrival he attempted to sell these individuals into slavery. King Charles V of Spain ordered him to free the group of kidnapped Indigenous people immediately. Although King Charles V of Spain ordered him to free the group of kidnapped Indigenous people immediately, the fact remains that they were forcibly removed from their land and families, treated as slaves and exposed to foreign diseases, all of which are serious traumas.
“When I talk to tribal members about this issue, a lot of people say, well, why don’t we have a monument to a famous Penobscot who made a lot of contributions?” Dana said in an interview with Robbie Feinberg of the Maine Public. “Or something to really memorialize these strong connections between our two communities? We’re connected by the same river. We’re very close.”
Dana adds that she believes that the statue should be placed in a museum for historical context. A subcommittee of the Bangor City Council was formed to address this matter, and is voting on the act of removal at the end of the month. According to Maine Public, the subcommittee’s three members were largely in agreement about removing the monument.
The monument commemorating Gomez on the corner of Washington Street and Broad Street was gifted to the city of Bangor in 1999 by a group of Portuguese Americans from New Bedford, Massachusetts. Joseph Baldacci, who was the mayor of Bangor during the statue’s installation, stated publicly that he believes the statue should be torn down.
“My thoughts at the time were about marking some important history because Estaban Gomez is referred to in some major history books and did a lot of map making in relevance to the eastern seaboard,” Baldacci stated.“I believe that we should celebrate the rich history of the Penobscot nation along the Penobscot River, and if New Bedford doesn’t want to take it back they should look at an art museum or destroy it.”
Gomez was born in Portugal in 1483, sailed with the famous Ferdinand Magellan, was jailed for committing mutiny against his mentor, but later freed in 1523. He convinced the King of Spain to let him lead an expedition to find the fabled Northwest Passage and set off in 1524. After arriving in North America about 500 years ago in 1525 along the banks of the Penobscot River, Gomez spent time in Newfoundland before making his way down to Maine with his crew of 29 men.
The Director of Community and Economic Development for the city of Bangor Tanya Emery, who has been working closely with the subcommittee, stated that they “are preparing a recommendation for the city council to have the monument removed, and they should be taking a vote on Thursday Oct. 8.”
The statue will most likely be removed and transplanted to a museum where it can be remembered in its historical context rather than as a public reminder of generational trauma for Indigenous people. Statues around the nation are being removed due to their controversial nature, a trend that has elicited many opinions. Time will tell if Bangor will follow in the footsteps of other communities in light of working towards a better understanding of the past, and current, mistreatment of Indigenous people in the United States.