Prominent singer Neil Young’s recently completed Honour The Treaties tour struck a chord with allies and opponents alike.
Along with well-known jazz musician Diana Krall and accompanied by First Nations spokespersons, Young recently used this tour as a benefit for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation – the community so far hit the hardest by oil sands development. Proceeds, estimated at over $500,000 from the four concerts, are in aid of the Nation’s Legal Defence Fund, to support Treaty 8. The First Nation is gearing up for a major legal fight after the federal government approved Shell Canada's Jackpine mine expansion despite an environmental assessment that said the development will cause irreversible environmental damage.
At each concert, Young has been airing a 15-minute version of Petropolis: Aerial Perspectives on the Alberta Tar Sands, shot for Greenpeace. The video shows "probably the most devastating thing you will ever see…It's the greediest, most destructive and disrespectful demonstration of just something run amok that you could ever see," he said about the tar sands development.
Comparing what he saw around Fort McMurry to Hiroshima, in an interview accompanying his Toronto concert, Young made the following statement that went viral and soon caught the attention of the ruling class: “Canada is trading integrity for money.”
A unique aspect of this particular criticism of the oil sands is the reaction from Harper and oil executives, incensed that a celebrity would dare use his public platform to take them down. Industry-backed EthicalOil.org launched NeilYoungLies.ca urging people to “help us fight back against foreign celebrities and their slander.” (What will they say about all the celebrities still living in Canada, let alone the rest of us, who have also spoken out against the tar sands? Oh, that’s right, we’re “terrorists”). The group’s founder, Aalykhan Velshi, holds a senior position in Harper’s office.
Neil Young joins a list of Canadian artists who have supported the Idle No More movement and its related campaigns for climate justice.
Young is no stranger to using his music as a platform for protest, in his lyrics, his on-stage commentary and, especially in this case, his offstage media interviews done jointly with First Nations spokespersons. Over 40 years ago, his song “Ohio” became extremely popular. It depicted the horror of four Kent State student anti-war protesters murdered by the National Guard. That same year, he wrote “Southern Man” to speak out against racism. His 1975 “Cortez the killer” vilified the Spanish conquest of Mexico and the massacre of Aztec peoples. In 1989, “Rockin’ in the free world” became a popular anti-George Bush anthem and his 2006 album “Living with war” further castigates U.S. imperialism.
Donations to the Legal Defence Fund can be mailed to:
Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation
Legal Defence Fund
Fort Chipewyan, Alberta