A man walks past the Estevan Gomez monument in Bangor in this 2020 file photo. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

The Bangor City Council unanimously voted on Monday evening to remove the monument to 16th-century Portuguese explorer Estevan Gomez, located in a park on the Bangor Waterfront.

The cross-shaped monument will be removed in the coming weeks, and will be displayed at the Bangor Historical Society, with language detailing the historical and cultural context of Gomez’s expedition. The remaining pedestal and patio, located near the intersection of Washington and Broad streets, will be demolished.

The monument was erected in 1999, gifted to the city of Bangor by a group of Portugese Americans from New Bedford, Massachusetts. Earlier this year, the Penobscot Nation sent a proposal to the city to remove the concrete cross and associated patio, citing Gomez’s history as an oppressor and enslaver of Indigenous people in New England. The city took it up amid nationwide protests against racism and police violence following the late May killing of an unarmed Black man by Minneapolis police officers.

Gomez was reportedly the first European to travel up the Penobscot River in 1525. After visiting the area that several centuries later would become Bangor, Gomez sailed south, later reportedly abducting around 50 Indigenous people in what is now Rhode Island or Connecticut, and sailing back to Europe with them, with plans to sell them into slavery.

Maulian Dana, tribal ambassador for the Penobscot Nation, said in June that while she understood that some people would not understand why the city would remove such a monument, she felt that its continued existence fundamentally disrespected Maine’s Indigenous people. Despite a few critics, there was little pushback from the community on the monument’s removal.

“I think that a lot of times these conversations come about and people can be defensive or they think it is some sort of big political agenda,” Dana said. “All it boils down to is respecting all citizens that call Maine home.”

Bangor’s Commission on Cultural Development over the summer undertook an extensive outreach and research project to gauge public sentiment as well as explore the logistics of removing the monument. Liam Riordan, a University of Maine history professor who sits on the commission, said he hopes this is just the beginning of a larger conversation about how history is talked about in the public sphere, and that any potential monument or public art that might replace the Gomez monument would take that into consideration.

“This is the time to try to move forward with something new on that site, something that is more positive, and a more accurate reflection of history,” Riordan said. “The more challenging issue is how we think in public about history, and how we commemorate that in public spaces.”

The removal of the Gomez monument comes as many different statues and monuments honoring controversial historical figures across the country have been challenged or removed. In the southern U.S., statues of Confederate military leaders have been the target of protests, due to their association with slavery and racism.

In August 2017, Bangor’s city council approved a proposal to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday of October, instead of Columbus Day. In 2019, Gov. Janet Mills signed legislation changing the name of the holiday statewide to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.