Neil Young tour: 5 facts about the First Nation he's singing for

Veteran Canadian rocker Neil Young will perform the second show tonight on his Honour the Treaties tour, an effort to raise money for a small Alberta First Nation involved in a big battle against tarsands development.

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation has spent millions in legal fees fighting oilsands development

Chief Allan Adam, left, and Neil Young en route to Winnipeg during the Honour the Treaties tour. This picture was posted on Young's Facebook page, where he writes, 'Here's the Chief and yours truly outside Broken Canoe Trading Post. Big flurries fill the air. Honour the Treaties.' (Facebook)

Veteran Canadian rocker Neil Young will perform in Winnipeg tonight, the second show on his Honour the Treaties tour to help a a small Alberta First Nation involved in a big battle against tarsands development. 

The tour, which launched earlier this week in Toronto, is raising money for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN), which aims to protect its land against oilsands development.

Here are five facts about the Alberta First Nation:

1. In Treaty 8 territory

The ACFN has about 1,200 members, with more than half living off the reserve.

The band has eight reserves around the southern shores of Lake Athabasca, with a combined area of 34,767 hectares, but considers its traditional territory to encompass all of Treaty 8. Ancestors signed Treaty 8 at Fort Chipewyan in 1899.

ACFN members speak Dene and call themselves K’ai Taile Dene, meaning “people of the land of the willow.”​

2. Receives no federal funding

Neil Young, right, held a press conference in Toronto, where he launched the Honour the Treaties tour to raise money for an Alberta First Nation. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)
​In 2013, the First Nation did not sign its annual funding agreement with the federal government.

The band says the agreement contained a clause that would have forced it to abide by existing and future legislation — something it says would have violated the government’s constitutional and legal obligations to consult and accommodate treaty and aboriginal rights.

By not signing the agreement, the band is losing about $1.6 million from this year’s budget.

3. Relies largely on economic development

ACFN owns and operates several business entities under an umbrella organization called ACDEN, made up of 17 businesses that largely provide services to the oil and gas industry.

ACDEN calls itself "one of Canada's most successful Aboriginal enterprises." Its first company was started in 1994 with just 10 employees and now there are more than 3,000.

Last year, ACDEN generated between $200 million and $250 million in revenue.​

4. Spends millions fighting oilsands

Over the last five years, ACFN has spent over $2 million in legal fees in relation to its challenges of oilsands development.
Alice Rigney of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation picking berries on Burntwood Island, Lake Athabasca. "They say oil is development and progress, but for me it’s not, it’s destruction." (John Rigney)
Its biggest challenge was a hearing into the expansion of the the Jackpine mine, which ended up being approved last month.

“We’ve lost a lot of litigation, but it evens out because the victories we feel have really changed things drastically in the way the oilsands are developed,” says Eriel Deranger, communications co-ordinator and ACFN member.​

5. Commits to other challenges

In 2014, ACFN will likely participate in two hearings — for the Pierre River mine and for the Teck Resources Frontier Mine.

"In addition to that, we are challenging the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan and we filed for a judicial review of the Jackpine mine decision." says Deranger.
Eriel Deranger, ACFN communications representative, says Shell’s consultation process is concerning. (Ben Powless)

“We are probably looking at millions of dollars in legal fees for just 2014.”

But Deranger says despite the cost, its a worthwhile fight. 

"We want to conserve and protect our region. We want to ensure that our river systems, our wildlife and our people are healthy not just now but into the future. And that my children can experience the land and the river systems and know what it means to be a Denesuline woman or a Denesuline man, and that won’t happen if we allow the government to develop the way that they want it to."


Connie Walker

CBC Reporter

Connie Walker is a reporter in the Investigative Unit at CBC News. Follow her on twitter @connie_walker


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