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Maliseet Indian Fact Sheet (Malecite)

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 means "people of the Beautiful River." This is the traditional name for St. John River, which runs through the Maliseet homeland.

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 or Malécite instead. 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. Here is a map showing the location of Micmac and Maliseet communities in New Brunswick. There is also 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 lands that belong to the tribe and are 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 council members, 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 man talk in his language here and read a Maliseet picture glossary of animal names 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 Canada. The homepage of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians in Maine is another good source of information about modern-day Maliseet people.

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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 ball-kicking games. 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 cradles.

What were Maliseet homes like?

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, not for shelter. 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. Like most Native Americans, the Maliseets wore moccasins on their feet. Here is a website with pictures of American Indian moccasins. In colonial times, the Maliseet adapted some European fashions such as blouses and jackets, decorating them with fancy beadwork. Here are some drawings of Wabanaki clothes, some old photographs of Maliseet Indian clothing, and more information about American Indian traditional dress in general.

The Maliseets didn't wear Indian warbonnet headdresses like the Lakota. 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 jewelry, 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 in the Maliseet tribe, 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 Maliseets 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 with their bows and arrows. 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 and culture.

What kinds of weapons and tools did the Maliseets use?
Maliseet hunters used bows and arrows and spears. Fishermen used pronged spears to catch sturgeon and salmon from their canoes, like the man in this picture. Warriors sometimes fought with heavy clubs carved from tree roots or stone. 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 symbols on wampum belts often told a story or represented a person's family, and they were sometimes given as gifts to honor peace treaties or alliances.

What is Maliseet music like?
The two most important Maliseet instruments are drums and flutes. Maliseet drums were usually large and several men would play them together at dances and other community events. Flutes were carved from wood are were most often used to play love songs. Here is a video of Maliseet people singing and dancing to a drum song at the Tobique First Nation pow wow.

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 Mi'kmaq, Passamaquoddy, Abenaki, and Penobscot tribes. 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. When the Maliseet tribes signed treaties with the Canadian government, they gave up ownership of most of their original land. In exchange, the government agreed that the Maliseets would have special fishing, hunting, and logging rights. Some white fishermen, hunters, and loggers think it is unfair that they don't have the same rights that the Maliseets do, even though the Maliseets have a legal agreement with the government for those rights. In New Brunswick, some people 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. Here's an article about this situation that is written for younger readers.

What about Maliseet religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Maliseet life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Maliseet people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about the Maliseet spirit world or this site about Indian spiritual beliefs in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
There are not many children's books 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 recommendations of books by Native American authors. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

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 2020.

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 tribe, their language and history.

Maliseet Language Resources
Maliseet language samples, articles, and pronunciation guide.

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

Maliseet Words
Maliseet Indian vocabulary lists.

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