The Maliseet word for the St. John River is Wolastoq and it is from this watershed that the people get their name. Maliseets are known as Wolastoqiyik in their language, which means people of the beautiful river (Wolastoq).
In A Passamaquoddy-Maliseet Dictionary “Matawaskiyak” is defined as “at the place where water flows out over grass (possible origin of the place name Madawaska)”. This definition describes the hydrography and geography of the Madawaska river and region more accurately than the over popularized version of “porcupine place”; although it is possible that there is a connection between both meanings.
Madawaska is part of northern Maliseet territory (Wolastokuk) and has been used by the Maliseet since time immemorial as a hunting, fishing and camping site during seasonal subsistence activities. Madawaska had been used as a village site by the Maliseet since at least 1761 according to a map by Joseph Peach and George Sproule, but it is unclear how long before the 1760s it had been a village.
The establishment of the village at Madawaska was most likely influenced by its proximity to Quebec City and possibly played a strategic role during the Seven Years’ War. A petition by Grand Chief Ambrose St. Aubin on behalf of the Maliseet Nation was published in the Quebec Gazette on January 24, 1765, shortly after the Royal Proclamation of 1763. It calls for the prohibition of settlers from Quebec from hunting beaver in the region between Lake Temiscouata and Grand Falls, and declares that the region is “Lands belonging to the [Maliseet] Nation”.
Madawaska remained an important Maliseet village throughout the late 18th century. It seems to have been considerable in size and had become a mission site with a visiting priest from the province of Quebec. Its growth and importance rose in the aftermath of the colonial wars in New England (1675-1763); and was influenced by the granting away of Maliseet lands between Woodstock and the Bay of Fundy to the Saint John River Society in the 1760’s, and the arrival of British Loyalists from the American Colonies in 1783. Madawaska acted as a haven for Maliseets and other Wabanakis since it was more secluded and lay further north than other Maliseet villages like Meductic and Eqpahak. However, Maliseets continued to travel frequently between these villages.
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