Wolastoqiyik is the proper name for the people. They named themselves after the Wolastoq river, now commonly known as the St. John River, on which their territory and existence were centered. Wolastoq means "bright river" or "shining river" ("wol-" = good, "-as-" shining, "-toq" = river; "-iyik" = people of, equivalent e.g. of "-ians" or "-ites"). Wolastoqiyik therefore simply means "People of the Bright River," in their own language.
Maliseet is the name by which the Mi'kmaq described them to early Europeans. "Maliseet" was a Mi'kmaq word meaning "broken talkers" or "lazy speakers"; the Wolastoqiyik and Mi'kmaq languages are fairly closely related, but the name reflected what the Mi'kmaq perceived to be a sufficiently different dialect to be a "broken" version of their own language.
The Maliseet customs and language are very similar to those of the neighboring Passamaquoddy (or Peskotomuhkati), and largely similar to those of the Mi'kmaq and Penobscot tribes, although the Maliseet are considered to have pursued a primarily agrarian economy. They also shared some land with those peoples. The Maliseet and Passamaquoddy languages are similar enough that they are properly considered slightly different dialects of the same language, and are typically not differentiated for study.
Several French and English words made their way into Maliseet from the earliest European contact. One Maliseet word also made its way into English: "Mus", or Moose, for the unfamiliar creature the English speakers found in the woods where the Maliseet lived and had no name for in their own language.
Before contact with the Europeans, the traditional culture of both the Maliseet and Passamaquoddy generally involved travelling downstream on their rivers in the spring, and back upstream in the autumn. When they had finished travelling downstream in the spring, they congregated in larger groups near the ocean, and planted crops, largely of corn (maize), beans, squash. In the autumn, after the harvest, they travelled back upstream, taking provisions, and spreading out in smaller groups into the larger countryside to hunt game during the winter. Fishing was also a major source of resources throughout the year.
Today, within New Brunswick, approximately 3,000 Maliseets currently live within the Madawaska, Tobique, Woodstock, Kingsclear, Saint Mary's and Oromocto First Nations. There are also 600 in the Houlton Band in Maine and 200 in the Viger First Nation in Quebec.
There are about 650 remaining native speakers of Maliseet and about 1,000 of Passamaquoddy, living on both sides of the border between New Brunswick and Maine; most are older, although some young people have begun studying and retaining the language, and the numbers of speakers is seen to have potentially stabilized. An active program of scholarship on the Maliseet-Passamaquoddy language takes place at the Mi'kmaq - Maliseet Institute at the University of New Brunswick, in collaboration with the native speakers, particularly David Francis Sr., a Passamaquoddy elder living in Sipayik, Maine. The Institute actively aims at helping Native American students master their native languages. Linguist Philip LeSourd has done extensive research on the language.