Neil Young is kicking off his Honour the Treaties concert tour Sunday at Massey Hall in Toronto, with proceeds from four Canadian dates going to the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation's legal fight against the expansion of the Athabasca oilsands.
The First Nation is gearing up for a major legal fight after the federal government approved the expansion of Shell Canada's Jackpine mine last month, despite an environmental assessment that said the development will cause irreversible environmental damage.
Shell received the green light from the federal government to expand its 7,500 hectare Jackpine mine to 13,000 hectares.
The company claims the enlarged mine could bring the Alberta and federal governments an estimated $17 billion in royalties and taxes over its life and create an additional 750 full time jobs.
But indigenous and environmental groups say the damage to water, land and animals outweighs any profits the addition to the oilsands site will yield.
Concerts just the start of oilsands campaign
Young's benefit concerts have been in the works since August and will be just the start of the musician's effort to stop oilsands developments, according to the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN).
The tour, which includes dates in Winnipeg, Regina and Calgary, is almost sold out — but not everyone is excited about Young's campaign. Eriel Deranger, the communications co-ordinator for the ACFN, says there is no question that the tour will be contentious.
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"There's going to be controversy with this when it comes to people in Alberta, and that's because our entire economy in Alberta is driven by the oilsands, and you can't get away from that. Everyone is tied to industry," Deranger said.
Deranger, David Suzuki and other anti-oilsands activists plan to hold a press conference prior to Young's sold-out show at Massey Hall this Sunday.
Fort McMurray visit controversial
Lionel Lepine is an oilsands machine operator who himself turned into an activist against the oilsands. He has front row tickets for Young's benefit concert in Regina.
"No [other] musician would do something like this for us, but he sees that this is causing a big problem," Lepine said.
Last year, Young visited Fort McMurray, Alta., and compared the oilsands city to Hiroshima.
"It's a good comparison when you look at industry," Lepine said. "And what all the companies have done so far — they call it the smell of money, but I call it the smell of death.”
Not everyone agrees.
A Fort McMurray radio station banned Young's music from the airwaves after the rock legend made those comments. Chris Byrne is the music director with Rock 97.9.
"He equated the town I live in to a place to a disaster where a bomb dropped," Byrne said.
Byrne said the ban will end if Young specifies he meant the oilsands, not the town of Fort McMurray.
Byrne said that he's not against young's Treaties tour but that it is hypocritical for people to attend the concerts in cities like Calgary that are dependent on the oil and gas industry.