Pulse of Canada

Did Stephen Harper slight the Nishiyuu Walkers?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has come under fire for attending the arrival of Chinese panda bears in Toronto Monday rather than greeting the nearly 300 First Nations youth who completed a marathon winter trek with a gathering at the steps of Ottawa's Peace Tower.

The group, known as the Nishiyuu Walkers, were greeted with cheers and applause as they arrived at the Parliament Buildings for an afternoon-long demonstration. Their long walk began back in January when David Kawapit Jr., an 18-year-old member of the Whapmagoostui community in northern Quebec decided to walk the 1,500 kilometres from his home to Ottawa in support of better living conditions for First Nations people.

Harper, however, wasn't there. He was hamming it up at Pearson International Airport with Er Shun and Da Mao, two pandas arriving for a ten-year stay in Canada, whom he deemed "national treasures."

[ Related: Is Stephen Harper choosing pandas over premiers? ]

A group of young people from the James Bay Cree community of Whapmagoostui, Que., arrived in Ottawa Monday. According to First Nations leaders, it's just the latest slight by Harper and the Conservative government towards Canada's aboriginal peoples. The Idle No More movement began in 2012 in response to the Tories' massive budget omnibus bills that they say affect indigenous environmental protection and sovereignty. Last week's federal budget did little to improve matters by not addressing key issues like education, housing and drinking water conditions on Canadian reserves.

"I find that we're treated like strangers," Roger Augustine, Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief for New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island told the National Post. "We're treated like people who don't have any rights. And that, to me, is totally outrageous."

Harper, on the other hand, has committed to continuing high-level dialogue on treaties and comprehensive claims and has made it clear he won't be swayed by protests or stunts.

So here's the Pulse of Canada question for today: Do you think Harper has slighted Canada's First Nations by choosing pandas over people?