Brief History of the Maliseet

The Maliseet people have lived along the St. John River Valley, from the St. Lawrence River to the Bay of Fundy, since time immemorial. Maliseet territory (Wolastokuk) is geographically diverse offering a variety of materials and foodstuffs during different times of the year. As a result, seasonal travel was necessary in order to access what was needed.

At the end of the 17th century, a series of colonial wars between Britain, France and the Wabanaki (Abenaki, Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, and Mi’kmaq) resulted in the displacement of native peoples from their traditional lands and the establishment of refuge sites. Abenakis, for example, were completely displaced from their lands in southern Maine and relocated to sites along the St. Lawrence River and Maliseet Territory.[1] By the mid 18th century Eqpahak, Meductic and Madawaska had become the three most prominent Maliseet communities.

Throughout the 18th century, the Maliseet Nation had signed a series of Peace and Friendship Treaties with the British Crown.[2] The first of which was signed in 1725, otherwise known as Dummer’s Treaty. These Treaties are legally binding agreements under National and International Law of which both Canada and the Maliseet Nation are equal signatories. They are an extension of the Covenant Chain of Friendship recognizing Maliseet rights and do not cede away any land.

In 1765, over a million acres of land between Woodstock and Saint John had been granted away to the St. John River Society.[3] This was followed by the arrival of thousands of Loyalists in the southern St. John River Valley in 1783, this resulted in Maliseets retreating to northern areas and congregating in villages like Madawaska, Tobique and Cacouna. Maliseet territory was being granted away by colonial governments at an alarming rate making access to land and water increasingly difficult.

Maliseet frustrations had only heightened when Acadians arrived at Madawaska in 1785 and it is unlikely that their meeting was a cordial one. Although the two groups had lived as neighbours for many years beforehand, Maliseets had not been consulted about this process of land granting to the Acadians, which began in 1785, and they had already lost vast amounts of their traditional lands by that time. In fact, tensions between both groups

are made clear in a letter between Lord Dorchester (Governor of Quebec) and Thomas Carleton (Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick) in January of 1787.[4]

[1] Prins, Harald E.L. “Cornfields at Meductic: Ethnic and Territorial Configurations in Colonial Acadia. Pp. 55-72. Man in the Northeast, No. 44 (1992).

[2]Maliseet Treaties are provided online by the Mi’kmaq Resource Centre at Cape Breton University at

[3] Nicholas, Andrea Bear. “Settler Imperialism and the Dispossession of the Maliseet, 1758-1765” in Shaping an Agenda for Atlantic Canada. Eds. John G. Reid & Donald J. Savoie. Black Point: Fernwood Publishing. 2011, 44. 

[4] Letter from Lord Dorchester to Thomas Carleton, January 3rd, 1787. UNB Winslow Papers,, Vol. 6-1.