Called Etchemins by Samuel de Champlain, the Maliseet belong to the Algonquin linguistic family. They were around a thousand when the Europeans arrived. They called each other “Wulust’agooga’wiks”, that is, “People of the beautiful river”.
Formerly dispersed over a strip of territory going from north to south of the St. Lawrence River to the Bay of Fundy and surrounded to the west by the Penobscots (present-day Beauce region) and to the east by the Micmacs (Gaspésie present), the Maliseet traveled there mainly by waterways. They were quickly recognized as masters in the art of canoe building, navigation and portage. Their favorite river was the St. John River, “Wolastoq”, hence their name. They also occupied the Rives du Saint-Laurent, on the south shore from Lévis to Métis and on the North Coast near Tadoussac. The banks of Témiscouata have also experienced periods of occupation. The presence of the Maliseet in this vast territory probably dates back at least a thousand years. Living from hunting and fishing, the seasons guided their movements and activities. Every summer, they gathered along the Rivière St-Jean in places conducive to exchanges and the celebration of ceremonies. This kind of gathering was even seen at Pointe-de -Lévy and Tadoussac where several indigenous nations exchanged their products. They would retreat to the land in the winter in small groups to survive the cold season.
During the British regime, as the colonization of the territory was more intensive, the Maliseet lost much of their hunting grounds to the settlers. A second set-aside attempt was made in 1875 with the purchase of land at Whitworth in the Rivière-du-Loup region. As the land was not fertile and no water flowed through the reserve, the Maliseet only inhabited it for one winter. In 1891, the government bought a piece of land in Cacouna which would become the smallest reserve in Canada. Territory too small to accommodate a large number of Maliseet, only a few dwellings had settled there. The last inhabitant of the reserve, Chief Jacques Launière died in the 1970s. It was not until 1987 before the Maliseet met in Rivière-du-Loup to elect a new band council. The only thing missing was the official recognition of the Nation by the government of Quebec and it was in 1989 that the Maliseet were recognized as the 11th Indigenous Nation of Quebec.