Senator James Gladstone

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CraigBaird

Many important historical figures have come from the area in and around Cardston. One of the most important, and well-known, was Senator James Gladstone. Gladstone has the distinction of being the first Indigenous person to serve as a Senator in the Canadian Senate.
Born on May 21, 1887 in Mountain Hill, Northwest Territories, Gladstone was born Cree but adopted into the Blood Reserve he was born on. The Blood people belonged to the Blackfoot Confederacy at the time. His name at birth was Akay-na-muka, or Many Guns.
Gladstone had been sent to a Residential School as a child and remained there until 1903 when he was moved to an Industrial School in Calgary. He would eventually apprentice as a printer and intern at the Calgary Herald.
In 1905, he would leave school and return to the Blood Reserve where he began working as an interpreter. He also worked on various ranches and for the Royal Northwest Mounted Police as a scout and interpreter. In addition, he worked as a mail carrier on the reserve for three years.
In 1911, he would marry Pok-otun, or Little Daughter, also known as Jane Healy. The couple would have six children, four daughters and two sons.
During the First World War, he was employed in the Greater Production Effort to convert large areas of the Blood Reserve into crop land to aid in the war effort. In 1918, he was appointed as the assistant stockman for the reserve and the head stockman in 1919.
Over time, Gladstone would find a love of farming and ranching and with his sons he would bring 400 cattle to the reserve. His ranch was started on the reserve in 1920 and was known to always be innovative and experimental with how he farmed and the equipment that he used. He is stated as the first Indigenous person on the reserve to buy a tractor, and the first to have their house connected to electricity.
In 1949, he was elected president of the Indian Association of Alberta and was sent to Ottawa on three occasions to press for improvements on the Indian Act during his tenure from 1948 to 1954. He was respected and accepted by both the Blackfoot and Cree and helped to bring them together under one organization. He would be re-elected president in 1956 and be named honorary president in 1957 and a patron in 1958.
On Jan. 31, 1958, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker nominated Gladstone for the Senate. One interesting aspect of this is that while he was able to serve in the Senate, Indigenous people could not vote in federal elections until two years later.
Gladstone would serve on the Senate until March 31, 1971 when he chose to retire. Less than a year later Sept. 4, 1971, he passed away from a heart attack in Fernie, British Columbia. Jane would pass away on Dec. 22, 1977.
In 2017, the Bank of Canada commemorated Gladstone with a special Canada 150 $10 note that had his portrait along with those of Sir John A. MacDonald, Sir George-Etienne Cartier and Agnes Macphail.
Suggestions for columns or questions? E-mail Craig at crwbaird@gmail.com. Listen to his podcast by searching for “Canadian History Ehx” on your podcast platform. Find his show on YouTube by searching for “Canadian History Ehx”.
Information for this column comes from Wikipedia and Chief Mountain Country: A History of Cardston and District Volume I.

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