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Maliseet Indians

Group of Indians in Canada

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Maliseet Indians, also MALECITE, MARESCHITE, and AMALECITE, the last being the official Canadian form, a tribe of Algonquian stock, occupying territory upon the lower St. John River, St. Croix River, and Passamaquoddy Bay, in western New Brunswick and northeastern Maine, and closely connected linguistically and historically with the Abnaki (Penobscot, etc.) of Maine. Their chief settlement was Medoctec, on the St. John, about ten miles below the present Woodstock, N. B. The name by which they are commonly known is of disputed origin, but may be derived, as claimed by one authority, from their Micmac name, meaning “broken talkers”. To the French explorers they were known as Etchemin, also of uncertain origin and meaning. Those about the bay are usually distinguished as Passamaquoddies.

The acquaintance of the Maliseet with the French began probably even earlier than the voyage of Cartier in 1535, through the medium of the fishing fleets which frequented the coast. The St. John River was known to the French as early as 1558, but the tribe is first mentioned, under the name of Etchemin, in 1604, by Champlain, who entered the mouth of the river and was welcomed by the Indians with feasts and dances. They seem at this period to have been enemies to the Abnaki, who were afterward their closest allies. In the same year de Monts made a temporary settlement on an island in the bay and shortly afterward the French fort La Tour was built on the St. John. By this means the Maliseet obtained European goods and firearms, and formed a firm attachment for the French, on whose side they fought in all the later colonial wars. In 1646 they were at war with the Gaspesiens, a Micmac band about Cape Gaspe at the mouth of the St. Lawrence, but in general they were in alliance with the Micmacs (q.v.) and Abnaki, and like them in deadly hostility with the Iroquois of New York.

The first mission teacher among the Maliseet was the Jesuit Pierre Biard, who visited them from his station among the Micmac in Nova Scotia in 1611-12. He estimated them at about 2500 souls.

In 1677-8 the Jesuit father Jean Morain established the mission of Bon Pasteur at Riviere du Loup, on the south bank of the lower St. Lawrence, P. Q., jointly for the Gaspesien Micmac and the Maliseet, who ranged over that territory. The former were already under missionary influence, but the latter, as yet uninstructed, were opposed to Christianity, and given to drunkenness, superstition, and polygamy. They were nomadic and depended entirely upon hunting and fishing. Their houses were light structures of poles covered with bark, and their beds were skins spread upon the ground. Until the nomad habit was to some extent overcome, the missionaries found it necessary to accompany their flock in its wanderings.

In 1688 the Recollect Fr. Simeon established a mission at Medoctec, which was soon after abandoned, probably in consequence of the outbreak of King William’s war. About the same time others of the tribe attended the Abnaki mission at Sillery. In 1701 the Medoctec mission was reestablished by the Jesuit Fr. Joseph Aubery, noted for his later work in Abnaki linguistics. Under his successors the tribe has long since been completely Christianized, being all consistent Catholics with a high reputation for morality and law-abiding qualities. Medoctec was finally abandoned about the year 1765. Except about 100 at Viger, P. Q., the Maliseet are all in New Brunswick, distributed upon small reserves, of which the most important is Tobique, with nearly 200 souls. The entire tribe, according to official report for 1909, numbers 843, with probably a few others in eastern Maine.


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