Before becoming prime minister, Conservative leader John Diefenbaker frequently spoke of the need to address the absence of Native political representation in a nation where the vast majority of the Native population could not vote. When the Conservative Party formed the government in 1957, Diefenbaker had the opportunity to do something about the problem. On 31 January 1958, Diefenbaker appointed James Gladstone, a Blood Indian from Alberta, to the Senate, making him the first Native senator. Gladstone, seen by Diefenbaker as someone who could give the Native peoples of Canada an official voice at the national level, was a good choice for the post. Gladstone had long been active in Native organizations at the reserve and provincial level, had served as the president of the Alberta Indian Association, and had been sent to Ottawa three times as a delegate to discuss Indian problems and grievances. Gladstone had also contributed to the 1947 Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons studying the Indian Act. In these roles, Gladstone took up the cause of better education for Indians and opposed the residential school system in favour of integration in order to help reduce Indian marginalization. He was also a vocal advocate of treaty rights and of the need to encourage Native participation in and control of their own administration. Gladstone was a staunch supporter of the Conservative Party, although, like other Status Indians, he did not receive full voting rights until 1960. Gladstone took seriously Diefenbaker's vision of his role as national spokesmen for all Indians, and he travelled widely to visit and become acquainted with the situation of Indians across Canada. Gladstone also used his office to address issues relevant to his constituency. In his first speech in the Senate, he broke parliamentary practice by speaking in Blackfoot rather than in one of the country's two "official" languages. He did so in order that a language of the nation's first peoples would be placed in the official records of governance.

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