BUCKSPORT — The day after the Nao Santa Maria, a replica of one of Christopher Columbus’ ships, sailed into town, the Maine Bicentennial Commission issued a statement distancing itself from the ship’s visit. The vessel’s arrival was organized by the Penobscot Marine Heritage Association as part of the 4-Port Loop.
The ship was originally scheduled to continue on to Bangor next week.
“While the ship’s visit is not hosted by Maine200 and the bicentennial commission is not involved in the planning for this event, we regret that this ship was chosen for an event that is associated with Maine’s bicentennial, as the mistreatment of Native Americans is a devastating part of Maine’s history,” said Maine200 Chairman Sen. Bill Diamond in a July 9 statement. “We are encouraging the event organizers to cancel the participation of the ship as part of their bicentennial celebration.”
The event is not funded nor organized by Maine200. The concept of a gathering of tall ships on the Penobscot River was endorsed by the commission in 2019, along with other bicentennial-themed events and programs across the state. That endorsement allowed the use of the bicentennial logo for promotions.
“This endorsement was issued well before commissioners had any details on the ships that would be participating,” according to the statement.
According to organizers, the 4-Port Loop event, with an assortment of events in Penobscot River towns, was intended to honor the region’s rich maritime history and as a belated celebration of Maine’s 200th birthday in 2020.
In addition to its history of shipbuilding and trade, the Penobscot River and its watershed is the ancestral home of the Penobscot Nation. Tribal leaders issued a statement this week, stating in part:
“The Penobscot Nation is disappointed and disheartened that any group would use a replica of a ship used by Christopher Columbus to celebrate the heritage and statehood of Maine. While offensive in numerous ways as well as historically inaccurate it is also deeply harmful to the Wabanaki Nations as well as the descendants of all Indigenous Nations who live in the lands and waters that our ancestors have been stewards of since time immemorial. Maine has existed for 200 years. Our people have been here for at least 12,000 years.”
“The sailing of this ship is not an honor especially in our homeland on a river that is our relative and bears our name.“
Dick Campbell, a former Republican state representative from Orrington, is president of the recently formed Penobscot Marine Heritage Association.
In an interview prior to the Nao Santa Maria’s visit, he said. “It’s really a spectacular vessel. It’s just incredibly impressive.”
The tall ship’s arrival drew crowds of onlookers to the Bucksport waterfront when it sailed into town Thursday, July 8.
Campbell said organizers wanted to expand awareness of the tourism opportunities along the coast and to make the 4-Port Loop a vacation destination.
“If this goes well and people enjoy, we hope to do it annually,” Campbell said last month.