Government of New Brunswick

Extracts from Maliseet &Mi’kmaq:
First Nations of the Maritimes by Robert Leavitt


Oral history is the telling of what took place in the past. It might include descriptions of people and places, family trees (the names and relationships of ancestors) and stories about faraway places - as well as events that occurred in the local area.

Sometimes researchers find documents that confirm what has been passed down orally, but oral history is often our only way of knowing about certain events of the past.

It is important to remember that people who have only an oral tradition develop ways of keeping oral history accurate and reliable - for instance, remembering their ancestor's names and where they were from. Methods include frequent repetition, special occasions for recitation, and special ways of expressing names, the order of events, and relationships among people.

The ancient Maliseet and Mi'kmaq recited family trees at weddings and funerals, often going back ten or more generations. In ancient Europe, before the Greek poet Homer wrote them down, the Odyssey and the Iliad, oral histories of the Trojan War, had been told for many centuries. More than two thousand years later, these histories were used to locate the actual site where the war took place.

Among the Indians of the Northeast, there were several nations who formed alliances, including the Iroquois, Delaware and Creek confederacies. In the mid-1700s, the Indian peoples of Maine and the Maritimes formed the Wabanaki Confederacy (wah-bah-NAH-kee) as a peace agreement with the Mohawks, who had been their enemies.

The members of the Confederacy included the Mohawks (and their allies), the Ottawas, and the Wabanaki nations- the Mi'kmaqs, Maliseets, Passamaquoddies, Penobscots, and, for a brief time only, the Western Abenakis of New England and Quebec.



Wabanaki is a name for the "Land of the Dawn"- that is, Maine and the Maritime provinces- and for the people who live there- Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot and Abenaki. Most of what we know about the Wabanaki Confederacy comes from oral history.

A number of important symbols andceremonies were used to keep the Confederacy alive. Wampum played an important role.

Each wampum belt or strand had a design on it, which stood for a message from one nation to the Confederacy, or from the Confederacy to a member nation.

The belts were kept at Kahnawake as records of all past exchanges among the nations. There they were "read" aloud at meetings.

The design on each belt did not stand for precise words, but represented the main idea of the message and helped the delegate remember what to say as he delivered it. The threads at the top of each belt or string were left loose to symbolize "emanating words." (Threads at the ends of wampum used for decoration or jewellery were braided or tied together.)

The Wabanaki Confederacy lasted until 1862, when the Penobscots withdrew. By the early 1870s, the Passamaquoddies, Maliseets and Mi'kmaqs had also ended their relationship with the Mohawks.

The Micmacs had never been involved with the Confederacy as much as the other nations, but they kept up the use of wampum belts for messages among different branches of their own nation well into the 1990s, at meetings of the Grand Council.