Maliseet people

Maliseet people

The Wolastoqiyik, or Maliseet (English pronunciation: /ˈmæləˌst/,[1] also spelled Malecite), are an Algonquian-speaking Native American/First Nations/Aboriginal people of the Wabanaki Confederacy. They are the Indigenous people of the Saint John River valley and its tributaries, between New Brunswick, Quebec, and Maine. Today Maliseet people have also migrated to other parts of the world.



Although generally known in English as the Maliseet or Malecite, their autonym is Wolastoqiyik. They are known in French as Malécites or Étchemins (the latter collectively referring to the Maliseet and Passamaquoddy, both Eastern Algonquian-speaking groups.)

They called themselves Wolastoqiyik after the Wolastoq River at the heart of their territory. (In English it is commonly known as the St. John River.) Wolastoq means "Beautiful River". Wolastoqiyik means "People of the Beautiful River," in Maliseet.[2]

The term Maliseet is the exonym by which the Mi'kmaq people referred to this group when speaking about them to early Europeans. Maliseet was a Mi'kmaq word meaning "broken talkers" or "lazy speakers".[3] Although the Wolastoqiyik and Mi'kmaq languages are closely related, the name expressed what the Mi'kmaq perceived as a sufficiently different dialect to be called a "broken" version of their own language.


Maliseet Territory

At the time of European encounter, the Wolastoqiyik were a primarily agrarian people who supplemented their diets by hunting, fishing and gathering fruits, berries, nuts and natural produce. The French explorers were the first to establish a fur trade with them that became important through their territory. Some European goods were desired because they were useful to Wolastoqiyik agriculture and hunting. The French Jesuits also established missions, where some Wolastoqiyik converted to Catholicism; with years of colonialism, many learned the French language. The French called them Malecites, adapting the name they had been told by other tribes. After defeat in the Seven Years War, the French ceded their territory to Great Britain, including that of the Malecites (without asking their permission).

During the American Revolution, the Malecites were caught between the colonists of New Brunswick, loyal to the British, and rebellious Massachusetts to the south. They were believed to hold the balance of power north of the Bay of Fundy, and both sides vied for their support. Suffering economically because of the decline of the fur trade, the Malecites sought to accommodate both sides rather than fight. Peter Tomah, a Malecite chief and a staunch Roman Catholic, negotiated with the American colonists in council at Machias (Maine) on 27 December 1779. Eventually the tribe split, with Tomah's people allying with the British side.[4]

In the Jay Treaty of 1794, the Maliseet were granted free travel between the United States and Canada because their territory spanned both sides of the border. During the 19th century, intermarriage among the Maliseet and Passamaquoddy and European settlers was common.

When the Treaty of Ghent was signed, ending the War of 1812 and settling the border between Canada and the US, Great Britain ceded a significant portion of the Maliseet/Passamaquoddy territory to the United States. It became part of what is now northern Maine.


The customs and language of the Maliseet are very similar to those of the neighboring Passamaquoddy (or Peskotomuhkati). They are also close to those of the Mi'kmaq and Penobscot tribes.

The Wolastoqiyik/Maliseet differed by pursuing a primarily agrarian economy. They also shared some land with those peoples. The Wolastoqiyik/ Maliseet and Passamaquoddy languages are similar enough that they are properly considered slightly different dialects of the same language. Typically they are not differentiated for study.

Current situation

Today, within New Brunswick, approximately 3,000 Maliseet live within the Madawaska, Tobique, Woodstock, Kingsclear, Saint Mary's and Oromocto First Nations. There are also 600 in the Houlton Band in Maine and 1200 in the Viger First Nation in Quebec. An unknown number of 'off-reserve' Wolastoqiyik live in other parts of the world.

About 650 native speakers of Maliseet remain, and about 1,000 of Passamaquoddy, living on both sides of the border between New Brunswick and Maine. Most are older, although some young people have begun studying and preserving the language. The number of speakers is seen to have potentially stabilized. An active program of scholarship on the Maliseet-Passamaquoddy language takes place at the Mi'kmaq - Maliseet Institute at the University of New Brunswick, in collaboration with the native speakers. David Francis Sr., a Passamaquoddy elder living in Sipayik, Maine, has been an important resource for the program. The Institute has the goal of helping Native American students master their native languages. Linguist Philip LeSourd has done extensive research on the language.

Surnames associated with Maliseet descent include : Sabattis,Gabriel, Saulis, Jenniss, Atwin, Launière, Athanase, Nicholas, Brière, Bear, Ginnish, Solis, Vaillancourt, Wallace, Paul, Polchies, Tomah, Sappier, Perley, Aubin, Francis, Sacobie, Nash. Also include's DeVoe, DesVaux, DeVou, DeVost, DeVot, DeVeau

Notable Maliseet

  • Sandra Lovelace Nicholas, a Maliseet activist, is known for challenging discriminatory provisions of the Indian Act in Canada, which deprived Aboriginal or Indigenous women of their status when they married non-Aboriginals. She was instrumental in bringing the case before the United Nations Human Rights Commission and lobbying for the 1985 legislation which reinstated some rights of First Nation women and their children in Canada via Bill C31. Retaining status for future generations is still an issue for Maliseet and all Aboriginal groups. She was appointed to the Canadian Senate September 21, 2005 [5]


  1. ^ Erickson, Vincent O. (1978). "Maliseet-Passamaquoddy." In Northeast, ed. Bruce G. Trigger. Vol. 15 of Handbook of North American Indians, ed. William C. Sturtevant. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, pg. 123.
  2. ^ LeSourd, Philip, ed. 2007. Tales from Maliseet Country: the Maliseet texts of Karl V. Teeter. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, p. 17, fnote 4
  3. ^ Erickson 1978, pg. 135
  4. ^ Penny Petrone, First People, First Voices, University of Toronto Press: (1984), p. 34
  5. ^


Maps showing the approximate locations of areas occupied by members of the Wabanaki Confederacy (from north to south):

External links

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