The Canadian Press Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, wearing a headdress, takes part in a drum ceremony before departing a Ottawa hotel to attend a ceremonial meeting at Rideau Hall with Gov. Gen. David Johnston in Ottawa, Friday January 11, 2013.

OTTAWA — The Conservative government defended its handling of aboriginal issues Thursday and sidestepped disparaging comments made by two members of Stephen Harper’s caucus about the Idle No More movement and Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence.

In the Commons, the NDP’s Romeo Saganash said the remarks made by Sen. Patrick Brazeau and MP Royal Galipeau (Ottawa-Orleans), and Harper’s failure to prioritize aboriginal concerns at a speech to his caucus, do not bode well for any concrete progress for First Nations.

Neither Prime Minister Harper nor Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan took an opportunity to condemn the comments about Spence’s weight loss and manicure during what Brazeau referred to as her “so-called hunger strike.” Instead, they emphasized the government is focused on creating jobs for all Canadians including First Nations.

“I was personally a little sickened by it,” said the NDP’s Charlie Angus, whose riding includes Attawapiskat. “I think it sends a message of contempt towards First Nation people and I think that they should apologize. I think it’s not how we should do politics in this country, this kind of race-based and misogynist attacks on people.”

Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae said it was completely inappropriate, “but listen, these are people who have not always shown sensitivity towards a critical problem for the country.”

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