To the Editor:
There is a monument in front of Saint Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Church in Northeast Harbor. The title of the plaque on the memorial reads, “FIRST RECORDED LANDING OF WHITE PERSONS ON MT. DESERT ISLAND, MAINE 1613.” The “white persons” referred to were part of a French expedition that, at the invitation of Wabanaki Chief Asticou, established a fur trading post, Saint Sauveur, on Somes Sound. The settlement and its Jesuit mission lasted just a few months before an English force attacked and dispersed the colony, killing a priest in the process.
Seal Harbor Summer resident John Joseph O’Brien first erected the monument on his property, “Sea Bench,” in 1952 and later donated it to Saint Ignatius. While the memorial commemorates the arrival of Europeans with a bronzed image of colonists raising a cross, there are unfortunately no Native Americans in the scene and no mention of their presence in the accompanying text. The implicit message of the memorial is that white colonization was a good thing in itself. No consideration seems to have been given to the fact that the European exchange with the Wabanaki peoples nearly wiped the natives out in a matter of decades.
Given the Catholic Church’s long-standing and complex relationship with native peoples in general and the Wabanaki in particular (some of whom are Catholic), church authorities should add explanatory text to the memorial site putting the Jesuit settlement in its proper historical context. The following is a suggestion:
“In 1613, at the invitation of Chief Asticou of the Wabanaki People, a French expedition led by Sieur de la Saussaye established a fur trading post and a Jesuit Mission opposite the Chief’s seasonal village on Somes Sound. In that year, an attack on the colony by an English privateer from Jamestown proved to be the first of many armed encounters between French, English and Dutch colonists competing for resources in the Gulf of Maine. In addition to trade goods for the Wabanaki people, these European settlers brought deadly diseases, alcohol and guns to the coastal region. Just a few decades after the arrival of the French in Somes Sound, an estimated 90 percent of the Wabanaki had died as a result of direct or indirect contact with Europeans. The cultural genocide carried out against the Wabanaki since the 17th century has left a legacy of historical trauma for Maine’s indigenous people and others to reckon with.”
Hopefully, the leadership of Saint Ignatius Church will see the importance of having a memorial that includes both the Native American perspective and the complexity of history.
References: Harald E. L. Prins and Bunny McBride, “Asticou’s Island Domain: Wabanaki Peoples at Mount Desert Island 1500-2000,” National Park Service, December 2007. www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/acad/wabanaki_peoples_vol1.pdf
The Memorials of Acadia Park, “Jesuit Settlement Monument.”