Wolastoqiyik Tribe

The Occom Circle

Wolastoqiyik Tribe


St. John’s Tribe; Indians at St. John


This Alqonquian-speaking Native American/First Nations people call themselves the Wolastoqiyik Tribe, after the Wolastoq (or Wulustuk, anglicized to Walloostook) River, meaning "beautiful" river. In English it is known as the St. John River, and forms the border between the US and Canada on the northeastern coast, emptying into the Bay of Fundy. They are a member of the Wabanaki Confederacy, meaning "People of the First Light or Dawnland" referring to their location, which includes the Mi'kmaq, Passamaquoddy, Abenaki, and Penobscot Indians, with whom they share language and culture. The Wolastoqiyiks are also called the Maliseet people, an English version of the French name Malecite, which means "broken or lazy talkers," and was the name Mi'kmaqs used for Wolastoqiyiks, contrasting their close dialect to the Mi'kmaqs' own language. The French fur traders and missionaries who met the Mi'kmaqs first, adopted their name for the Wolastoqiyiks. The Wolastoqiyiks claim a close physical and spiritual bond with the Wolastoq River, and practiced agriculture and hunted and fished along its shores. Like their neighboring Tribes, they were converted by French Catholic missionaries and influenced by French fur traders who had been active in New France from the late 1500s. Sometime in the later 17th century, they moved their headquarters from the mouth of the River to the upper reaches. In 1699, French explorers reported nine Indian settlements in the St. John valley. At about this time, the Native Nations in this area began to form an alliance to counter British expansion into their lands that became the Wabanaki Confederacy. The French, who were at war with the British over control of territory in North America, supported them and depended on Wolastoqiyik warriors to fight on their side. When hostilities ceased, the victorious British expelled the French and intermarried people, and made treaties with the local Indian Nations, though their traditional lifeways were destroyed, and the lands set aside for the Wolastoqiyiks were increasingly reduced by white settlers. In 1765, they petitioned the Governor of Canada to protect their rights and territories. This chaotic situation did not deter Wheelock from looking at the Northeastern Canadian Indians as potential sites for English Protestant missions. In the winter of 1766, he sent Aaron Kinne to scout the area, who reported that though the area was rich in resources, the Indians, including "the St. John's Tribe" were under the (diabolical) influence of French Catholicism. Undeterred, Wheelock wrote to Whitaker in the Fall of 1767 of continued interest in the Tribe after hearing reports of "a great Appearance of Religious Concern in Numbers of them" (ms. 767502.1). Nothing seems to have come of these attempts. After the Revolutionary War, many loyalists fled the new US and settled on land along the St. John River, granted to them by the British government. Acadians who had fled the British in the 1730s had settled this land, and were now displaced further upriver around the Madawaska River settlement of the Wolastoqiyiks, putting increased pressure on the already dwindling Tribe. By the 1830s, most Wolastoqiyiks had assimilated into the Acadian communities or relocated to other villages. Today, there are a few Wolastoqiyiks living outside Edmundston, the site of one of their original main villages. The State of Maine recognized the Maliseet, along with the Mik'maq, as official Tribes in 1974. In 1989, the Province of Québec officially recognized them as the eleventh Aboriginal Nation, with a reserve near the town of Rivière du Loup.


Erickson, Vincent. "Maliseet-Passamaquoddy." Handbook of North American Indians. Ed William Sturtevant. vol. 15 Northeast. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1978; http://www2.gnb.ca/content/gnb/en/departments/thc/heritage/content/archaeology/Wolastoqiyik.html; www.upperstjohn.com/history/natives.htm.