Talk with Eriel Deranger inspired Neil Young's concert tour to fight tar sands expansion

Rock legend Neil Young got his idea for the "Honor the Treaty" tour to help fight tar sands expansion after a conversation on the road to Fort McMurray.

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation spokesperson Eriel Deranger was driving Young in his ethanol-powered Lincoln car last September to the oil boom town, when he began asking about her people's legal battles to stop the expansion of Alberta's tar sands. 

"He said, 'Well, how are you guys financing all these cases?'" she said, remembering her drive with Young and her two-year-old son in the back.

Deranger's community lives downstream of Alberta's tar sands and are among the very few that have fought industry giants like Royal Dutch Shell for projects that threaten to destroy traditional territory. Deranger and chief Allan Adam had been taking Young to different communities, after he reached out asking for a "real tour" of tar sands-affected communities. 

"I told him that we do the lawsuits very carefully, because sometimes we don't know where the money is going to come from," she said. 

The singer then started insisting that they needed a legal defense trust fund, and wondered what he could do to help their fundraising drive. 

"He said, 'I want to do something about this. I feel like I have some pull and influence and I feel like I should do something to help you guys.' And over the course of the last few months, we have been working out the details of that concert coming to fruition."

Today, Young has announced his plans to hold benefit concerts to help the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation's legal defense. Dubbed the "Honor the Treaty Tour", the tour will feature jazz musician Diana Krall at the shows in Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto and Regina. There are no stops at Fort McMurray, where a radio station banned his music after he compared the tar sands to Hiroshima. 

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation will need the support, after the federal government gave the green light for Shell to expand its Jackpine Mine.
 
"We were more or less expecting it. This decision has become, basically..." Deranger sighed, pausing for a few seconds before continuing,
 
"We have lost all faith in the government's ability to uphold the law. The Jackpine mine panel decision clearly demonstrated that there would be major violations of multiple levels of legislation and laws, both provincial and federal level, and the recommendations to try and mitigate those potential violations."
 
Despite the 750 full time jobs promised by the project, she said the AFCN rejected the expansion due to its assessment that 185,872 hectares of wetlands in the area will be lost or damaged as a result of the Jackpine Mine expansion. 
 
"The fact is that even the federal government clearly admits that the project has the potential to cause adverse impact that would breach laws. But they say, "under the circumstances, we're going to grant approval." It makes no sense. This is exactly why ACFN has all the challenges, which is why Neil Young is supporting us, because it's time to put an end to the out of control, irresponsible development of the region. " 
 

The concerts will take place Jan. 12 in Toronto, Jan. 16 in Winnipeg, Jan. 17 in Regina and Jan. 19 in Calgary. Tickets go on sale Tuesday.

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