Forget the Pandas

Anakana Schofield

Yesterday, David Kawapit, Stanley George Jr, Geordie Rupert, Travis George, Johnny Abraham and Raymond Kawapit, along with the 263 other young people who joined them en route from Whapmagoostui, arrived in Ottawa, on foot, having walked 1000 miles in temperatures that hit a low of -58ºC, as part of the Idle No More movement.

The sun came out over Parliament Hill, along with several thousand people, and the walkers each talked about their journey and the reasons behind it. But Stephen Harper wasn't there. The prime minister was at Toronto airport, greeting two pandas just arrived from China. He described them as 'national treasures'. Most of the mainstream media followed Harper to Toronto; they've paid little attention to the Journey of Nishiyuu since the walkers set out on 16 January.

It has received plenty of attention on social media, however, especially from young people, who recognise it as a historic achievement. The walkers were welcomed, fed, celebrated and hosted by the many communities through which they passed.

But Harper has made his priorities clear, as his government continues to pursue policies that violate aboriginal treaty rights, weaken environmental laws and neglect the poverty and social problems in many First Nation communities.


  • 27 March 2013 at 12:30am
    Bob Beck says:
    It's true Harper shows no inclination to do anything meaningful about the social problems of First Nations people (or indeed of anyone else in Canada). But his trip to the Toronto zoo was more than simply a distraction from the Cree walkers' arrival. There was a fairly direct connection between the photo-op and the snub.

    He was, after all, greeting not only pandas, but diplomats from China, to which he's keen to sell tar sands oil, and secondarily minerals. The most effective opposition to projects like the Northern Gateway pipeline comes from First Nations in British Columbia, loath to acquiesce in the inevitable contamination of their traditional territories and fisheries.

    You might think that a government, if provoked to vindictiveness by opposition to its plans, would confine it to those particular opponents. But that's not, apparently, how Harper et al prefer to do politics. First Nations self-government, the lack of which is an important driver of the Idle No More movement, would after be an insuperable obstacle to the Harper project of transforming Canada root and branch.

  • 28 March 2013 at 5:46pm
    raoul duke says:
    Keep in mind the media here through 'leaked' financial management reports colluded with the Harper government to portray the financial mismanagement of Chief Theresa Spence as indicative of the whole of the First Nations population. This effectively marginalized Spence, Idle No More, and any representatives of First Nations as a credible voice for that population, in less than a week.

    Harper and co. don't pay attention because they know there's no one that will be portrayed as credible in the media to hold them to account for doing so.

    • 29 March 2013 at 4:15pm
      Bob Beck says: @ raoul duke
      Yes, Harper's people know full well how to play (in the sense of con, or dominate) the media, and they practice message control as a black art. There was some commentary on CBC Radio and elsewhere to the effect that the leakage of the "audit" of Chief Spence's band's finances was obviously very carefully timed and orchestrated. But such nuances did not finally prevail in the general uproar.

      Still, a mastery of PR will not help Harper, Oliver et al when the pipeline issue gets to the courts. The Conservatives dislike the 1982 Constitution so much, perhaps, that they overlook how it's evolved and come to be applied, or even what it says, in a black-letter sense. Court after court has affirmed the basic principle that First Nations must be consulted in major land-use decisions, and will do so again.

      Of course, by that point Harper may be out of power, Northern Gateway may be completed (or scrapped), and many things will be different.