Indigenous Rights are...Hey Look! A Panda!

Yesterday hundreds of indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians stood on Parliament Hill in Ottawa to greet the Nishiyuu walkers - a group of First Nations marchers who have gathered along the 1500 kilometre route between Whapmagoostui in Quebec's James Bay Treaty area and the nation's capital.

The youngest walker to speak on behalf of the group was an 11-year old girl who said she was marching on behalf of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper chose to dismiss the event, traveling instead to Toronto's Pearson Airport where he, along with his wife, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and a high-school band, welcomed two panda bears on loan to Canadian zoos from China.

If the absurdity of the scene seems all too familiar, you may be recalling Rick Mercer's "Pandas and Pipelines" spoof video ad. Pandas and pipelines might be as confusing as hell, but look! A panda!

On the tarmac at the Pearson Airport Harper spoke of the bears as "symbols of peace and friendship with all Canadians." The cuddly creatures have been used to signify friendship between nations for centuries.

“Over the coming years these pandas will help us learn more about one another while serving as a reminder of our deepening relationship, a relationship based on mutual respect and growing collaboration … It is truly an honour to be entrusted with their care,” Harper said. Canada's growing relationship with China, especially in light of the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Act (FIPPA), has been seen as a direct threat to First Nations constitutionally-protected rights.

This weekend Postmedia's Mike De Souza wrote about the Harper government's reluctance to disclose information regarding the pandas after an access to information request was filed on the issue. The Office of Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault conducted an investigation into the request after access to certain sections was denied by Environment Canada.

Legault found the request was "inappropriately responded to," according to De Souza. The government redacted the word 'loan' from an internal memo's title, as well as additional references to a 'loan' in the document. These redactions were reversed after Legault's investigation.

Harper's panda diplomacy might be as confusing as hell, but look! A panda!

Image Credit: PMO Image Gallery.

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