Neil Young Tour - Opinion Piece

by Michel Ruel on February 28, 2014 - 3:19pm

The Canadian First Nations’ treaties are not being respected. I think they should be honored, and so does rocker Neil Young. He recently kicked off a music tour to raise money and awareness in an effort to help the Chipewyans of Alberta, where lies the massive Athabasca oil sands.

            Firstly, back in the 1870’s and into the 1920’s, a series of treaties were signed – the eighth of which involves the Chipewyans – with the First Nations of Canada, giving them a range of rights. According to Treaty 8, the Chipewayans are in title to 840,000 square kilometers for reserves. Some other recognized rights include the right to mainain their traditional way of life, the right to education, medical care, tax exemption, freedom from conscription (forced enrollment in the military) and from military access to the land, game and all other resources within the boundaries of the reserves “as long as the sun shone upon those lands” (

            Secondly, Neil Young’s tour addresses the fact that those rights are not being respected. Unlike many people seem to think, the tour’s purpose is not to shut down the Athabasca oil sands, but to help the First Nations with their rights. In fact, he said: “Our tour across Canada is to bring awareness that the First Nations treaties must be honoured if tar sands expansion is to take place”. He has already passed his goal of 75,000 dollars to put into the First Nations defense fund and he also raised a quite a lot of awareness on the topic.

            Thirdly, the oil sands themselves are harming the First Nations. They are having negative impacts on the land, water, air and wildlife within the reserves. Several leaks in the sands have polluted the Athabasca River as well as the tailing ponds and Suncor (energy company) has admitted that 1,600 cubic meters (1.6 million liters) of toxic water makes its way into the river every day. The sands also consume large amounts of natural gas and emit large amounts of carbon dioxyde. Albertan wildlife is being affected by the polution in Athabasca. Caribou are being pushed out of their natural habitat, birds and other animals that drink from the river are dying and fish are mutating due to the toxins in the water.

            In short, Neil Young’s tour is a good idea because it helps protect the Canadian First Nations’ rights. There are treaties that are not being respected, money and awareness to be raised, and damaging effects being produced by the Athabasca oil sands.