The Passamaquoddy Indians belonged to the loose confederation of eastern American Indians known as the Wabanaki Alliance, together with the Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, Abenaki, and Penobscot Indians.
The Passamaquoddy live primarily in Maine, although there is also a band of a few hundred Passamaquoddy people in New Brunswick.
The Maliseet and Passamaquoddy people were closely related neighbors who shared a common language, but though the French called both tribes by the name “Etchimins,” they always considered themselves politically independent.
The tribes of the east coast were extremely confusing to the Europeans, who couldn’t understand why there were dozens of small groups of Native Americans who lived together yet claimed to be separate nations.
What the Europeans did not realize was that the east coast had not been nearly as empty before they got there.
Smallpox and other European diseases had decimated the Indian populations–the Passamaquoddy nation had been 20,000 strong before European contact, and no more than 2000 thereafter–and they regrouped and banded together as best they could.
The Maliseet and Passamaquoddy, near relatives and long-time allies who spoke dialects of the same language, banded together against European and Iroquois aggression with their neighbors the Abenakis, Penobscots, and Micmacs.
The resulting Wabanaki Confederacy was no more than a loose alliance, however, and neither the Maliseet nor the Passamaquoddy nation ever gave up their sovereignty.
Today the Passamaquoddy live primarily in the United States and the Maliseet in Canada, but the distinction between the two is not imposed by those governments–the two tribes have always been politically distinct entities.
This Algonquian language has two major dialects: Maliseet (or Malecite), spoken mainly in New Brunswick, and Passamaquoddy (or Peskotomuhkati), spoken mostly in Maine.
There are 1500 speakers of both dialects combined. Very few people in the younger generations speak Maliseet or (especially) Passamaquoddy, which means that the language will die out within this century unless language revival efforts can successfully restore its use among Maliseet and Passamaquoddy children.