Maliseet - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Class distinctions were not unknown in Maliseet society at the time of White contact, with chieftainships following certain "chiefly" families. These families intermarried both within and outside the society and had more than their share of strong shamans and good hunters, talents that kept the chieftainship in the family. Old age brought respect for both males and females. Women held important positions as herbalists, midwives, and—among the Maliseets' closest relatives, the Passamaquoddy—ceremonial positions in the performance of both secular and sacred group rituals. Slaves taken during the colonial period were often White children from southern Maine. Today education is a source of individual and family status differentials. Persons who have completed high school or university, have Permanent employment on or off the reserve, or are elected to or acquire leadership roles in the Indian community are held in high esteem.

Political Organization. At first contact and during the Colonial period, there was a supreme chief for all Maliseet. In the colonial period he was assisted by a subchief. Other leading men were designated captains. Decisions of concern to the entire group were made collectively by the supreme chief, his assistant, and the captains. The positions of chief and subchief were held for life and were ratified by the neighboring Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot. Leading men from each of these groups also met to discuss matters of Concern to two or more groups, such as reaching a common position vis-à-vis the colonial governments. As a component group of the Wabanaki Confederacy, the Maliseet chiefs and leading men and their families assembled periodically at Caughnawaga, Quebec. Canadian regulations imposed in 1896 mandated three-year terms for chiefs, but the practice of selecting chiefs for life continued well into the twentieth century. In 1967, the Union of New Brunswick Indians was founded, binding ties between the Maliseet and Micmac. The close ties the Maliseet had with the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot in Maine have gradually become secondary to ties with the Micmac in New Brunswick.

Social Control. Informal techniques of social control (gossip, ostracism, withdrawal) were more effective deterrents to asocial behavior than formal ones. Fear of retaliation by witchcraft or sorcery helped maintain order in the Community, especially when the role of shaman as curer was eclipsed by a disapproving Christian church.

Conflict. The role of the Maliseet in colonial disputes Between the French in Acadia and the Massachusetts Bay Colony encouraged Maliseet cohesiveness. Changing fortunes owing to the defeat of their allies and the arrival of Loyalist settlers required the Maliseet to make major adjustments. The cordial relations with the French were replaced by sometimes unsympathetic treatment from the English.


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