Published in Indian Country Today Media Network | January 14, 2014 | Circulation: 300,000 unique monthly visitors
Re-printed in The Tyee | January 14, 2014 | Circulation: 340,000 unique monthly visitors
Undeterred by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s rebuke that Neil Young’s “rock star” lifestyle made him unfit to criticize Canada’s oil sands, at hisToronto concert on Sunday night the legendary Canadian musician substituted Harper’s name into his song ‘Pocahontas,’ which describes massacres against Indigenous Peoples.
“Stephen Harper, Pocahantas and me,” the 68-year-old singer crooned to 2,700 fans in Toronto at the first show of his fundraising tour to support Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s legal battle to halt the oil sands’ expansion, which they argue has caused cancer rates to skyrocket and contaminated their lands and waters. In the street outside Massey Hall, dozens held a round dance — a fixture of the Idle No More movement that has swept the country over the past year.
Only hours earlier, the Canadian music veteran issued his strongest words yet against his country’s energy boom. He cited the statistic that oil sands-affected aboriginal communities have a cancer rate that is 30 percent higher than the rest of the population, including rare forms of the disease linked to petrochemical pollution.
“People are dying of cancer because of this,” he told reporters. “All the First Nations people up there are threatened by this … The atrocities that happened — they are much bigger than we can describe.”
He also called the oil sands the “greediest, most destructive and most disrespectful demonstration of something that has run amok.”
After Toronto, his “Honor the Treaties” tour heads to Winnipeg, Regina and Calgary. He called on Canada to uphold the deals it signed guaranteeing aboriginal communities’ use of their territories would be protected.
“We made a deal with these people,” Young said. “We are breaking our promise. We are killing these people. The blood of these people will be on modern Canada’s hands, and it will be the result of not just a slow thing, but of a fast and horrific thing if this continues. Believe me, these people are not going to sit back and let modern Canada roll over them.”
The Prime Minister’s Office fired back an unusually direct response shortly after Young’s announcement, saying that the resource sector is “fundamental” to Canada’s economy, employing tens of thousands of Canadians.
“Even the lifestyle of a rock star relies, to some degree, on the resources developed by thousands of hard working Canadians every day,” spokesman Jason MacDonald said in a statement emailed to Indian Country Today Media Network. “Our Government recognizes the importance of developing resources responsibly and sustainably and we will continue to ensure that Canada’s environmental laws and regulations are rigorous.”
On Monday, Young replied that when he visited the oil sands, he drove there using an electric vehicle and biomass generator. “And I’m a rock star,” he quipped.
“Our issue is with the government breaking treaties with the First Nation and plundering the natural resources the First Nation has rights to under the treaties,” he added. “They are digging a hole that our grandchildren will have great trouble digging their way out of. There are better jobs to be developing.”