Neil Young – Talkin’ to the Free World

Neil Young – Talkin’ to the Free World

Neil Young ended his Honour The Treaties tour in Calgary Alberta this week and always a man to speak his mind, he is lending his celebrity (and mind) to The Athabaska Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN).

Update (01/29): Watch a live performance of “Mother Earth” from the Calgary performance here.

The intent of the tour is to raise cash for the AFCN’s legal defence against Prime minister Harper’s federal conservative government. At issue is the federal government’s violation of First nation’s constitutional rights to preserve and protect their traditional lands from any kind of development without meaningful consultation. The federal government have approved Shell Oil Canada’s mine expansion projects without consideration of Treaty 8 which is specific to the area. Mr. Young reports that “thanks to Canadian’s awesome response” in excess of $75,000 have been raised for the legal defense fund, an amount he believes will do the job.

The Alberta tar sands, are perhaps the most hotly contested and lucrative natural resource on the planet. Covering about 140,000 square kilometres, generating thousands of jobs and billions of dollars, the oil patch has been great for the economy. On the opposite side of those coins, the environmental impact of the tar sands development has so far had a severe effect on Alberta’s Athabaska region.

Depending on whose point of view you read, it is possible to swing from confidence in the environmental responsibility and reclamation promises of the oil companies and government ministries, to abject fear when listening to the ministrations of environmental scientists such as Dr. David Suzuki and fellow panel member David Schindler. Oil company and government representatives were invited to participate but did not attend.

[quote]If the government is lying to the First nations people and not honouring the treaties, could they be lying to you?[/quote]
Calgary was recently rated third best place in the world to live. It is an energetic, vibrant, clean and confident place. It is no secret that the oil business feeds much of this. It’s ironic that the press conference was held in The Jack Singer concert hall. Twenty three of it’s thirty four founders are oil companies. People here are passionate about the oil business. It is part of the fabric of Calgary’s economic climate and those who want to tamper with it are not looked upon too kindly. As Young and Suzuki point out however, this event is focused less on economics and more on ecological issues.

What is being asked for is not a stop to the oil business but a paradigm shift in how think about our future and how we look after the planet on which we live. The belief here is that if Treaty 8 is honoured, the environmental concerns could be controlled as the oil sands continue to expand. Left unchecked, the health of animals of the four and two legged variety are being and will continue to be severely threatened. In the irreparable sense, rare cancers have been reported in the surrounding settlements and disease in general has increased by 30 percent.

It’s easy to turn a blind eye to these concerns when financial gain is on the table and the problem is in someone else’s backyard. That someone else with the back yard in this case is The Athabaska Chipewyan First Nation. Chief Allan Adams of the ACFN invited members of the press to visit the area if they wanted the real story and to drink a glass of water from Lake Athabaska. He promised us we would not drink it.

In early 2013 The Alberta government announced world class technology and transparency in regard to monitoring the future growth and reclamation aspects of the tar sands but where big money is concerned it’s easy to be skeptical. As in any democracy however, it is up to the people to hold their governments accountable. This is the other prong of Young’s approach, to keep us aware and talking about our future as well as our leader‘s roles in it.

Raising Awareness
Raising Awareness
Mr. Young has been criticized in the media for being hypocritical and he admits that he has been, but concedes: “So are we all. The point is I have learned and am doing something with that knowledge. I am looking forward and trying to protect the earth for my grandchildren. If the hole in Alberta’s boreal forest continues to grow and the CO2 emissions continue to rise, what is happening now to the First Nations people will inevitably happen to all of us.” Young posed the question: “If the government is lying to the First nations people and not honouring the treaties, could they be lying to you?“

It’s easy for anyone to get the wrong impression of actual facts through the media. Edited sound bites and quotes taken out of context are rampant. Press coverage in Calgary did nothing to alleviate that. Young was quick to thank (with thinly veiled sarcasm) the editor of the Calgary Herald for bringing it to his attention that the message of the tour is not being clearly heard, reporting for example that Young was using a private jet for this tour (he took a bus).

This was responded to by a confrontational Herald columnist who asked Young: “When was the last time you flew in a private jet?” and “How will you ever make up for the carbon footprint you have created in your life?” His response: “I doubt I can, but I might possibly make up for it if I can do enough now to change the way the world is going. This is what it will take for all of us. We didn’t know what a huge problem CO2 would be. Now we do.” As David Suzuki points out: ”It is impossible to live right now the way we need to live in the future because the infrastructure for it is not there. We need to slow it down and change direction in how we live on our planet”

The debate about who is more naive or hypocritical aside, Young’s real intention for the tour is to bring it to our attention that Treaty 8 must be honoured if oil sands expansion is to continue. To do this would do much to preserve the ecology of the Athabaska region. “There are many issues lined up like fence posts along the highway” he says, “but we cant address all of them. It’s valuable that we know what’s in that treaty. It was written by smart people and is there to protect all of us.”

Young is using his powers for good instead of evil. “I hope to reverse the damage I’ve done. My parents taught me two things: honour your word and clean up your mess” he says. That very much seems to be the path here. Apathy is not in Neil Young’s make up but integrity and accountability certainly are. That old hippy idealism may be more important than it ever was.

Hopefully he’s not naive in that.

– Photography: Charles Hope

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35 thoughts on “Neil Young – Talkin’ to the Free World

  1. November Rains

    Nicely written. Thank you for clearing up some questions.

    1. Keith McTaggart

      Thank you too.

  2. Logan Elliott

    Forever Young, I stand behind you Neil, I know you will stand for the right s of your country. Keep up the good work!

  3. Debra Hall

    My water and air are contaminated with TCE, Trichloroethylene and TCA, Thrichloroethane. 381 homes are included in the Hopewell Precision Superfund site. Guess what? The EPA does not have the money to pipe clean water to us because of budget cuts. Hopewell Precision is still in business earning about 4 million per year and they have not spent 1 penny to help us. Once your water is contaminated, it will linger within your grandchildren’s grandchildren’s lifetime. We must protect any clean water left on this earth. TY Neil Young for speaking your mind. Fuck what anyone has to say about it.

  4. carrie

    The tars sands produce the most inefficient products it taks 1 barrel of oil to extract 3. Ten years 20 years ago it was 1 to 100 barrels. So the fact is we will run out. The whole world need feul and plastic all these products can be made from plant based ethonals from hemp corn we will eventually will have to use new technology anyway so why not push for that technology now. The coast to clean up the tar sands will far out way the monies made. It will never get cleaned up. The FN are our gate way to make the right choice there is a reason they are the defenders of the land. It not a mistake honor the treaties for once honor ourselves and keep our word.

  5. What Neil and Dr. Suzuki are doing is good for all of us, and we all must step up and get on this bus! May the force be with the Earth, Indigenous Peoples and their treaties, our children and beyond. It takes these efforts to get the real information out, stop the greed and corporate money driven complex, matrix that doesn’t care, just wants to maximize profits for the few, and screw the impact, consequences.

    Besides David Suzuki, it would be nice if all the individuals in the photos were identified, so we can support their efforts together, please! Thanks for reporting this.

    It’s time for more change….

  6. Johnny

    Neil go back to America where you belong!

    1. Crazier Horse

      You do know that Neil was born in Canada, right?

      1. Johnny

        Who hasn’t lived here in what 30plus years? I suppose he would rather use oil/fuel from the middle east for his tour buses, transports and planes while touring the world.

      2. Cortez the Killer

        Apparently many people have no clue that NY was born in Canada and live there for the first few years if his life. Not like it’s a secret, he has always sung about being from Ontario, most recently on Psychedelic Pill…

      3. Johnny

        Yes and has lived in America for how long?

  7. Dan Whitney

    well done.

    1. Keith

      Thank you Dan.

  8. Ken T.

    Great article. Thanks Neil and Crew. Long May You Run…

    1. Keith

      Thanks very much Ken.

  9. Louise Preston

    Of all “the dudes” of his (and my) era, Mr. Young has consistently sung about the mess society has created. I wouldn’t want to argue with this tough guy. He’s honest and not afraid to tell it like it is. Bless you NY!

  10. Bill Hunt

    THANK YOU MR YOUNG ! People are talking now because of the work you did on this last tour ,bringing this subject to light.Honor the Treaties !

  11. morris

    this is bull shit so jet siting some more Neil and dont let the door hit you in the ass on the way out of canada

  12. Paul Strome

    Hats off to a Canadian who has brought our attention once more to honouring the treaties our government made with our First Nations people and have never honoured. I applaud you Neil Young and wish there were millions more of you. You are part of our Canadian conscience and I applaud you for it.

    Why does our government not demand a HUGE environmental bond/deposit (like an insurance policy) from all big oil, railroad, paper producing, chemical, and other companies so that when there are “accidents” like this there is the money already set aside to address the cleanup/results? This company declared bankrupcy shortly after the “accident” and then was re-sold in a “closed door auction” and that absolutely disgusts me. Our political leaders are supposed to be there to think ahead about things like this and plan accordingly so it is my opinion they are NOT doing their jobs adequately. What do you think? What do you suggest because we all know this kind of thing is going to continue happening, especially with Stephen Harper’s current policies and agenda.

  13. Peter Maizitis

    Thanks Neil … we need more like you to help save the planet from corrupt politicians and corporate pukes. In Ohio they are mandatorily pooling residents into drilling leases with drillers that have already spilled oil and cheated on lease payouts. And its all signed sealed and approved by the crooks at the state capital. Communism in the “free world”. Write if you need help … I play a little guitar as well …

  14. Sadly there will always be people so disillusioned with a short term gain and react angrily to things they don’t agree with or fully understand. We are all in this together, we all share the same space, air, water, soil. Be sure of this, the oil companies are not sharing their profits with you when the source runs out, and then where will you be, knee high in the shit they will leave behind. Oil and mining companies are famous for their environmental degradation and then when it’s not profitable anymore they disappear without a care. With oil on the decline and having reached it’s peak be prepared for them to pack up and leave it all, and not as they found it. The cost to produce oil 70 years ago was 1 barrel cost – to produce 100 barrels the tar sands is about 3 barrels cost to 5 barrels of oil, see the trend here. 10 years ago they were predicting oil prices to go to $200 to $250 a barrel, it never happened, it’s what $95 now and dropping. Regardless I’m not an economist but there are no guarantees oil will even be continued to be mined from the tar sand. Meanwhile they will push ahead without a concern the the land or the people on it, they are externalities, they don’t count.

  15. marie graff

    I was born in an Indian village. It is primary knowledge for me, how Canadian government has lied and cheated and maligned the First Nations people. It is clear that this has set the standard in this country. No heart can be clear, to know what one is, in one way or another, participating in, so long as these attitudes and practices prevail – whatever the form. Neil has courageously and rightfully forced an opening. Let us fill it with the love and joy of reparation. Let us grieve the past, as we should, for shame, and unclench our materialism in hopes of a change that will allow the first nations of this land to live in the spirit of their ancestors and in hope that we may gain back our dignity. Honour the treaties and show the way to a new consciousness. Let this truly be a demarcation for change.
    thank you Keith McTaggart and thank you Neil Young and thank you Chief Allan Adams for moving forward a project of restitution too long in the making.

    1. Keith

      Thank you for your great words Marie.

  16. Tom

    I think the people who were born and raised Albertan or traveled to Alberta to work in the oil industry have become a true Alberta patriot so you find excuses to protect your province which I understand. But twisting facts doesn’t change people’s views on the outside of the boarder. I don’t agree with everything Neil is saying but at least someone has the courage to ruin his reputation or his popularity to his fans based on standing for a countries nature of wild life and environment impact and quality of human life. Yes Alberta may have some
    Degree of protecting quality of nature because of the oil/tar sands and just maybe other parts of the world that does not have a such plan in place, maybe they can learn from you albertans and thanks to Canadian government enforcing such plan but let’s not stop there in the regulations but continue to enforce it. Why is it when you see the comments of people who are concerned about the environment impact of the oil/tar sands are long comments and sharing facts of studied documents. But those who are in favour of the Oil/Tar sands comments are short and criticizing someone who just trying to to good for YOUR environment ! That you live in. Where would you people be if the prices of hybrid vehicles cost prices go down to be more affordable so you wouldn’t need fuel and to have a cleaner healthier place to live.

  17. Romeo Martini

    Well done Neil
    Allways a Maestro

  18. Neil Rogall

    Your stance on the First Nations is brilliant Neil. So why are you aiding the Israeli government’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, the indigenous population of Israel by playing the Israeli apartheid regime.

  19. Kevin

    This all stems from lobbyists and private monies in politics. NO PRIVATE monies in our political system. When Private money is in the political realm the politicians are essentially bought and paid for.

  20. Jonny Oliver

    Keep on building pipelines
    Silly humans always biting the hand that feeds them

  21. Jonny Oliver

    Canada is resource rich and responsible
    We don,t vote in Movie stars because in Canada we know movies are,nt real.
    Hippy protester Marxists
    Should just sing and snap their fingers it’s okay the big boys will feed your familys as for honored treatys well I don,t lets amend them to produce better results even the Natives need to be accountable with resources

  22. luchat christian

    faut il être une star pour faire passer des messages? J’espère que vous, M. Neil Young 5 vous avez été mon premier disque, comme m. Bono pourrais faire que des prises de consciences servent a ce que nos enfants et petits enfants reçoivent une plante ou il fait bon vivre. Merci a vous

  23. Jan Barrow

    All governments lie!.!.!.! In the UK they run the BBC broadcasting their views how we should here it… They run our education we have been dumbed down for years, they run our health service and tried to get rid of our elderly by putting them on a death path.. This is a democracy we are not in a free world either… We need people like Neil those ignorant to oppose him have been brainwashed to think inwards, those who don’t are outward thinking and we are in very short supply…

  24. matt lock

    Nice article in ME. The national press articles I read seemed sure seemed one sided con Neil. That media mostly regurgitates press releases sent their way and don’t really explain the ‘credentials’, if any, of those press releases. Thanks ME for this pov, one of your best articles since relaunch.

    1. Keith McTaggart

      Thank you for your observation and very kind words words Matt.

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