Maliseet (Malecite) have long been associated with the SAINT JOHN RIVER in New Brunswick and Maine, and early extended as far as the St Lawrence. These Algonkian (Algonquian) speakers referred to themselves as Welustuk ("of the beautiful river").
Maliseet (Malecite) have long been associated with the SAINT JOHN RIVER in New Brunswick and Maine, and early extended as far as the St Lawrence. These Algonkian (Algonquian) speakers referred to themselves as Welustuk ("of the beautiful river"). Their lands and resources are bounded on the east by MICMAC, on the west by Passamaquoddy and Penobscot. Local histories depict many encounters with IROQUOIS and MONTAGNAIS. Contact with European fisher-traders in the early 17th century and with specialized fur traders developed into a stable relationship which lasted for nearly 100 years. Despite devastating population losses to European diseases, these Atlantic hunters held on to coastal or river locations for hunting, fishing and gathering, and concentrated along river valleys for trapping.
With the general unrest as European hostilities concentrated between Québec and PORT-ROYAL, and as increasing sporadic fighting and raiding took place on the lower Saint John (English against the French), the eastern fur trade faltered. Maliseet women took over a larger share of the economic burden and began to farm, raising crops which previously had been grown only south of Maliseet territory. Men continued to hunt, though with limited success, but they proved useful to the French as support against the English, and for a short period during the late 17th and early 18th centuries Maliseet men became virtually a military organization.
With the gradual cessation of hostilities in the first quarter of the 18th century, and with the beaver supply severely diminished, there was little possibility of a return to traditional lifeways. Traditional Aboriginal agriculture on the river was curtailed by the coming of European settlers; all the farmland along the Saint John River, previously occupied by Maliseet, was taken, leaving the Aboriginal people virtually displaced. With evidence of widespread hunger and wandering, pressure came to bear on government officials who established the first INDIAN RESERVES during the 19th century, at Oromocto, Fredericton, Kingsclear, Woodstock and Tobique.
As late as the 19th century, the Maliseet practised some traditional crafts, especially building WIGWAMS and birchbark CANOES, but major shifts had taken place during the previous two centuries as Maliseet acquired European cutting tools and containers, muskets and alcohol, foods and clothing. In making wood, bark or basketry items, or in guiding, trapping and hunting, the Maliseet speak of themselves as engaged in "Indian work." The growth of potato farming in Maine and New Brunswick created a market for Maliseet baskets and containers. Other Maliseet work in pulp mills, construction, nursing, teaching and business.
The Maliseet of New Brunswick experience problems of unemployment and poverty common to Aboriginal people elsewhere in Canada, but they have evolved a sophisticated and intricate system of decision making and resource allocation, especially at Tobique where they support community enterprises in economic development, scouting and sports. Some are successful in middle and higher education and have important trade and professional standings; individuals and families are prominent in Aboriginal and women's rights; and others serve in provincial and federal native organizations, in government and in community development. There were 4659 registered Maliseet in 1996.
A.G. Bailey, The Conflict of European and Eastern Algonkian Cultures, 1504-1700 (2nd ed, 1969); H.F. McGee, ed, The Native Peoples of Atlantic Canada (1984); W. Mechling, Malecite Tales (1914); W.D. and R.S. Wallace, The Malecite Indians of New Brunswick (1957).