Actress Daryl Hannah, second from left, and musician Neil Young, centre, with Athabascan Chipewyan Chief Allan Adam, left, during a visit to the Chipewyan Prairie First Nation in Janvier in September.
As the oilsands campaign co-ordinator for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Eriel Deranger receives numerous queries from people concerned about the environmental effects of development.
But Deranger was skeptical this summer when she received an email from a fellow who claimed to be an acquaintance of Neil Young’s, and said the rock singer was interested in visiting northern Alberta.
“How would I know if a guy sent me a picture where he had Photoshopped himself standing next to him?” Deranger said.
It took sleuthing, but Deranger eventually confirmed the request was authentic and she soon arranged a tour of the oilsands and some aboriginal communities for the rock-and-roll legend and actress Daryl Hannah, an environmental activist.
It was during that September visit that the musician suggested he would like to help the native band fight against new energy projects in its traditional territory — an offer that culminated with Monday’s announcement that Young is doing a series of four benefit concerts across Canada in January dubbed the Honor the Treaties Tour.
Proceeds from the tour, which includes a stop at Calgary’s Jack Singer Concert Hall on Jan. 19, will help bankroll court challenges by the First Nation revolving around the preservation of treaty rights, species at risk, access issues and public land policies. Jazz singer and pianist Diana Krall will also perform at the shows in Toronto (Jan. 12), Winnipeg (Jan. 16), Regina (Jan. 17) and Calgary.
“During the visit, he asked how we were going to fight all of this and said he thought he could help us financially and create awareness about what we are doing,” Deranger said. “Then he suggested that perhaps he could do a benefit concert.”
The native band’s battle with industry’s expansion in its traditional territory struck a chord with the Canadian-born icon, who lashed out at environmental degradation in the oilsands during a news conference the following week in Washington. Likening the landscape in northern Alberta to Hiroshima, Young made splashy headlines across the country and undermined government efforts to promote the oilsands as being developed in an environmentally responsible manner.
“We are not anti-development, but the ACFN does not want to see development expand further into the north,” Deranger said. “We are drawing a line in the sand and he is supportive of that.”
Neither government nor industry expressed concern Monday about the possible publicity generated by the upcoming concert series.
“I mean, Neil Young can do whatever Neil Young likes to do,” said Alberta Aboriginal Relations Minister Robin Campbell, who will soon switch Cabinet positions and oversee Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. “People make up their own minds.
“I’ve had a number of conversations with ACFN Chief (Allan) Adam and Chief Adam and I have a good relationship. We don’t always see eye to eye, but we’re always able to sit down and have a discussion and we’ll continue to do that.”
Geraldine Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said industry has no problem with differing opinions.
“We welcome discussions on all sides as long as they are based in fact,” Anderson said. “We encourage Mr. Young and his fans to learn about the innovation and technical advances that are helping to develop oilsands and develop them responsibly.”
HONOR THE TREATIES TOUR INFORMATION
Tickets for Neil Young’s Honor the Treaties Tour go on sale Tuesday, Dec. 10, with Diana Krall appearing as a special guest at each of the four shows. Tour dates are Jan. 12 at Toronto’s Massey Hall, Jan. 16 at Winnipeg’s Centennial Concert Hall, Jan. 17 at Regina’s Conexus Arts Centre and Jan. 19 at Calgary’s Jack Singer Concert Hall. Tickets range from $52 to $252 depending upon venue, with all proceeds benefiting the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s legal defence fund.