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Maliseet Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Maliseets for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our main Maliseet website for more in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Maliseet pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages. Photographs are the property of the sources we have credited.

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    The Maliseet Tribe

        Maliseet woman               Maliseet man
                           in the past                               today

How do you pronounce "Maliseet?" What does it mean?
Maliseet is pronounced MAL-uh-seet. It means "talks imperfectly" in Mi'kmaq, the language of a neighboring tribe. Maliseet people call themselves Wolastoqiyik in their own language, which refers to a river that runs through the Maliseet homeland. You can listen to a Maliseet Indian woman pronounce that word here.

What is the right way to spell "Maliseet"? What is the best way to refer to Maliseet people?
Most Maliseet people spell this word Maliseet, but some Maliseets, especially in Quebec, spell it Malecite instead (or Malécite if they are writing in French). Some Maliseets are starting to use their own tribal name, Wolastoqiyik, to refer to themselves again. However, they usually use the word "Maliseet" with outsiders, and it's fine for you to call them that.

Where do the Maliseet Indians live?
The Maliseet nation is part of the Wabanaki Confederacy that controlled northern New England and the Canadian Maritimes. The Maliseets are original natives of the area between Maine and New Brunswick. They lived on both sides of the border, because they were there before Canada and the United States became countries. Today, most Maliseets live on the Canadian side of the border, in New Brunswick and Quebec. There is one Maliseet band that lives in Maine.

How is the Maliseet tribe organized?
Each Maliseet Indian community lives on its own reserve or reservation. Reserves are land that belongs to the tribe and is legally under their control. The Maliseet Indians in the United States call their community a tribe. In Canada, they call themselves First Nations. Each Maliseet tribe or First Nation has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country, The leader of a tribe is called sakom in the Maliseet language, which is translated "governor" in Maine and "chief" in Canada. The sakom used to be chosen by tribal councilmembers, but today he or she is elected by all the Maliseet tribal members.

What language do the Maliseet Indians speak?
In New Brunswick and Maine the Maliseets speak English. In Quebec most of them speak French. Some older Maliseets in New Brunswick also speak their native Maliseet-Passamaquoddy language. It has this long name because two tribes, the Maliseet and the Passamaquoddy, speak the same language with different accents--just like American and Canadian English. Today Maliseet is an endangered language because most children aren't learning it anymore. But some young Maliseet people are working to keep the language alive.

The Maliseet language is very songlike and has complicated verbs with many parts. If you'd like to know a few easy Maliseet words, "tan kahk" is a friendly greeting and "woliwon" means "thank you." You can listen to a Maliseet woman talk in her language here and read a Maliseet picture glossary here.

What was Maliseet culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to the New Brunswick Bureau of Aboriginal Affairs. Their website has lots of information about Micmac and Maliseet culture in the past and today.

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How do Maliseet Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?

     Maliseet doll
They do the same things all children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Maliseet children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like colonial children. But they did have dolls and toys to play with, and the boys liked to play a ball-kicking game. Maliseet mothers, like many American Indian women, traditionally carried their babies in cradleboards on their backs. Here is a website with pictures of Native American cradle boards.

What were Maliseet homes like?
Wabanaki wigwam
The Maliseets didn't live in tepees. They lived in small round buildings called wigwams. Here are some pictures of wigwams like the ones Maliseet Indians used.

Today, Native Americans only build a wigwam for fun or to connect with their heritage. Most Maliseets live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Maliseet clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?

    Maliseet hood

  Beaded moccasins
The Maliseet women wore long dresses with removable sleeves. Maliseet men wore breechcloths and leggings. The Maliseets all wore moccasins on their feet. In colonial times, the Maliseet adapted some European fashions such as blouses and jackets, decorating them with fancy beadwork. Here are some pictures of Maliseet Indian clothing, some old photographs of Maliseet people wearing them, and more information about American Indian clothing in general.

The Maliseets didn't wear Indian warbonnet headdresses like the Sioux. Sometimes they wore a headband with a feather in it or a beaded cap. Some Maliseet Indians had distinctive hoods with mantles attached, like this one. They looked a little like a fancy nun's headdress. The Maliseets didn't usually paint their faces. Usually Maliseet men and women both wore their hair long and loose.

Today, some Maliseet people still wear moccasins or beaded clothing, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear feathers in their hair on special occasions like a dance.

What did the Maliseet Indians use for transportation in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?

              Maliseet canoe
Yes--the Maliseet people are well-known for their birchbark canoes. Here's a website with birchbark canoe pictures. Canoeing is still popular among Maliseets, though few people handcraft their own canoe from birch bark anymore. Over land, the Maliseets used dogs as pack animals. (There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.) The Maliseet used sleds and snowshoes to help them travel in the winter. They learned to make those tools from northern neighbors like the Cree Indians.

Today, of course, Maliseet people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

Maliseet spearfishing
What did the Maliseet Indians eat in the days before supermarkets?
The Maliseet were river people, and so they were expert fishermen. Fish is still important to the Maliseet diet and culture today. Maliseets also hunted big game like deer and moose, particularly in the winter when the snow would slow these large animals down. Usually it was men who did the hunting and fishing, while Maliseet women harvested corn and gathered fruit. Today, though, many Maliseet girls and women enjoy fishing also. Here is a website with more information about Native American food.

What kinds of weapons and tools did the Maliseets use?
Maliseet hunters and warriors used bows and arrows and spears. Maliseet fishermen used pronged spears to catch fish from their canoes, like the man in this picture. Here is a website with pictures of Native American weapons.

What are Maliseet arts and crafts like?

   Maliseet beadwork
Maliseet artists are famous for their Native American beadwork. Some early Europeans thought Maliseets made the most beautiful beadwork of all the American Indians. Maliseet people also wove baskets out of birchbark and ash splints. Like other eastern American Indians, Maliseets crafted wampum out of white and purple shell beads. Wampum beads were traded as a kind of currency, but they were more culturally important as an art material. The designs and pictures on wampum belts often told a story or represented a person's family.

What other Native Americans did the Maliseet Indian tribe interact with?
The Maliseet traded regularly with the other tribes of New England and the Maritimes, and they often fought with the powerful Iroquois. But their most important neighbors were the Micmacs, Passamaquoddies, Abenakis, and Penobscots. These five tribes formed an alliance called the Wabanaki Confederacy. Before this alliance, the Maliseet tribe was not always friends with the other Wabanakis--in fact, they sometimes fought wars against each other. But once they joined the Confederacy, the Wabanaki tribes never fought each other again. They are still allies today.

What kinds of stories do the Maliseet Indians tell?
There are lots of traditional Maliseet legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Maliseet Indian culture. Here is one legend about Glooscap (Gluskabe), the culture hero of the Wabanaki tribes, and another about Maliseet little people.

What problems does the Maliseet Indian tribe face today?
In Canada, natives and non-natives have many conflicts about Indian land rights. The Maliseet and Mi'kmaq people of New Brunswick have been at the center of this controversy. When the Maliseet and other Indian tribes signed treaties with the Canadian government, they gave up ownership of most of their original land. However, in exchange, the government agreed that the Maliseets would have special fishing, hunting, and logging rights. These special rights make white fishermen, hunters, and loggers very angry. They think it is unfair that they don't have the same rights that the Maliseets do, even though the Maliseets legally paid the government for those rights. Some white people in New Brunswick got so angry that they destroyed Mi'kmaq and Maliseet fishing equipment and burned a sacred site. Eventually the situation calmed down, but there is still a lot of tension between the Maliseet Indians and their white neighbors in New Brunswick. Here's an article about this situation that is written for younger readers.

What about Maliseet religion?
Religions are too complicated and culturally sensitive to describe appropriately in only a few simple sentences, and we strongly want to avoid misleading anybody. You can visit this site to learn more about Maliseet spirituality or this site about native spirituality in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
I don't know any children's books written by Maliseet authors or specifically about the Maliseets. There's a good book of legends called Giants of the Dawnland which you may enjoy. The author is a Penobscot Indian, but these stories are common to all the Wabanaki tribes including the Maliseet. You might also be interested in Clearcut Danger, a Canadian novel about a Micmac girl and a white boy who team up to oppose an unethical logging company. The Micmac are neighbors of the Maliseets, and the two tribes share common cultural elements--and common problems such as the ones explored in this book. Robert Leavitt's Maliseet and Micmac: First Nations of the Maritimes is a very good reference book about Maliseet culture for young readers, though it can be hard to find in the United States. Twelve Thousand Years is an easier-to-find reference book about the American Indians of Maine. You can also browse through our reading list of American Indian children's books in general.

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2015.

Thanks for your interest in the Maliseet Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Maliseets

Maliseet Indian Tribe
An overview of the Maliseet people, their language and history.

Maliseet Language Resources
Maliseet language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Maliseet Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Maliseet people past and present.

Maliseet Words
Maliseet Indian vocabulary lists.

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