Under the name of «Etchemins» given to them by Samuel de Champlain, the Maliseets belong to the Algonquian linguistic family. There were approximately one thousand of them when Europeans landed. Within their group they referred to each other as «Wulust’agooga’wiks», i.e. People of the beautiful river.
Traditionally scattered on a slice of territory stretching from the North Shore to the South Shore of the St-Lawrence River on to the Bay of Fundy and surrounded to the West by the Penobscots (currently the Beauce region) and to the East by the Micmacs (currently the Gaspésie), Maliseets mainly used navigable waterways to travel. They were quickly recognized as masters in the arts of construction, navigation and portage. They much preferred the St John River or the « Wolastoq », hence their name. They also thrived along the shores of the St-Lawrence from Levis to Metis on the south side and in the Tadoussac area on the north side. From time to time the shores of Lake Temiscouata would also offer refuge. It is estimated that the presence of the Maliseets on that huge territory would go back at least one thousand years. They were hunters and fishers who let seasons guide their migration and activities. Every summer they would gather alongside the banks of the St John River in specific areas where they could easily trade and celebrate through ceremonies. This type of gathering was even seen at Pointe-de-Lévy and in Tadoussac where many nations would trade their products. Every winter they would gather in small groups and live hinterland to survive the cold. The rest of the year they would smoke fish, transform maple sap into syrup, fish, etc. The Maliseet territory was portioned out a great deal as a result of the conflicts between the French and the English and even the Americans. Under the British regime, colonisation was intense. Maliseets were losing huge parts of their hunting territory to the settlers. This is why, in 1826, Maliseets requested from the federal authorities a right to these lands which in turn brought the government to grant them a lot in Viger. It became the first Aboriginal reserve in Quebec. As Maliseets were not farmers to begin with, lots of white people demanded though grievances the return of those lots of land for better, fully productive ends. Hence, in 1870, lands were reassigned and Maliseets began scattering throughout all of Quebec.
In 1875, a second attempt at creating a reserve started when lands were purchased in the Whitworth area of Rivière-du-Loup. As the soil was not fertile and no water flowed through the territory, Maliseets only lived in the area for the duration of a winter. In 1891, the government bought a lot in Cacouna; it became the smallest reserve in Canada. As that reserve was too small to accommodate a large number of Maliseets, only a few buildings were constructed. Chief Jacques Launière, the very last habitant of the reserve past away in the 70’s. A wait period extended until 1987 at which time the Maliseets gathered again in Rivière-du-Loup in order to elect a new Band Council. Then all that was needed was an official acknowledgment of the Nation by the government of Québec. And, in 1989, Maliseets were recognized as the 11th Québec Aboriginal Nation.
S.Belle,coll. Richard Michaud
The Nations map: http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/Mobile/nations/carte1200/carte-eng.html
First nation detail: http://fnp-ppn.aandc-aadnc.gc.ca/fnp/Main/Search/FNMain.aspx?BAND_NUMBER=54&lang=eng