Neil Young: Honour The Treaties

Neil Young: Honour The Treaties

By Tyson Kelsall, Culture Editor

“When people say one thing and do another, it is hypocrisy. Our Canadian environmental laws don’t matter if they are broken.” – Neil Young’s message to the Prime Minister’s Office.

From 12 to 19 January, famed Canadian musician Neil Young played four shows in Toronto, Regina, Winnipeg, and Calgary. Joining Young on his tour was jazz singer Diana Krall. This tour is a big deal and it is creating controversy, because Young has dubbed this short tour “Honour The Treaties” and is contributing 100% of the funds to the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s (ACFN) legal battle against Shell Oil’s proposed Jackpine mine expansion. Young, a long-time environmentalist, has spoken harshly of the Albertan tar sands after visiting months prior to this tour. Since the tour began, it has ignited a feud between him and the Canadian Prime Minister’s Office, of which Young has been highly critical, telling CBC’s Q that the Canadian government is “trading integrity for money.” Prominent Canadians, including Gordon Downie and Jim Cuddy have also released statements of support for Young’s cause.

The PMO came out swinging, stating that Young relies on oil for his lifestyle, and that natural resource development and extraction is a fundamental part of Canada. However, Young pointed out that he had driven from California to the tar sands without oil, which is an indication that the PMO is ignoring the structural issues that Young is attempting to get at: there are treaties in place, we should respect them and it is time to start taking steps towards a future without oil, not the opposite.

The ACFN’s battle against Shell’s proposed Jackpine mine expansion has been ongoing. On 11 April 2013, the Canadian Supreme court decided not to hear ACFN’s appeal. ACFN believes the proposal is infringing on their treaty rights, under treaty 8, and is thus unconstitutional. Before filing with the Supreme Court in January of 2013, the ACFN also tried to present their case to the Joint Review Panel, but the panel said they did not have jurisdiction in this domain. Treaty 8 legally protects the ACFN’s rights to “hunt, fish, trap and gather” on their land, and they believe the mine will adversely affect treaty land. ACFN have since appealed the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision, but the process is a long and expensive one. There have been many donors, but Neil Young’s tour will bring some financial relief, as well as promote the legal battle and encourage many people to continue donating online.