James Gladstone, Canada's First Indigenous Senator


Yvonne Phillip, a resident, author, and poet of our community.

On January 31, 1958 James Gladstone, other-wise- known as Akay-Na-Muka, became the first Indigenous–Canadian senator.  With his appointment to the Senate, James Gladstone fulfilled the need for Native political representation in the Canadian Parliament. He fought for the rights of Indigenous-Canadians to vote, in a time when other citizens had already been granted that right.

James Gladstone (1887-1871) was born a Cree and later was adopted by the Blackfoot aboriginal nation. After being appointed to Canadian Senate he advocated for better education for Status Indians. He opposed the residential school system in favour of integration into the regular Canadian population. This helped reduce the marginalization of the indigenous Indian population. He brought progressive farming to his people. He was the first person to bring a tractor and other mechanical agriculture equipment to a reserve. He urged other indigenous nations to adopt modern farming.

After his appointment, Aday-Na-Muka, deliberately engaged in another pioneering event. During his first speech in the Senate, “Gladstone spoke in the Blackfoot language to place in the official debates [record] a few words in the language of my people… as a recognition of the first Canadians.”

Akay-Na-Muka, lobbied for the rights and equal treatment Indigenous people. This past year the Canadian government gave him “another first”, by placing his portrait on a printing of new 10 dollar bills. This series celebrated the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederation in 1867. On this new bill three other outstanding Canadians were recognized; Agnes McPhail, who fought for the Canadian women’s right to vote; Sir George-Etienne Cartier and Sir John A. MacDonald, the two Canadian politicians, along with others, who worked as a team to bring the various parts of the new Canadian nation together!