Michael Ondaatje, Neve Campbell sign open letter supporting Neil Young's tar sands activism

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

After rock legend Neil Young's successful “Honour the Treaties” Tour, which raised more than half a million dollars to help the Athabasca Chipewyan challenge further tar sands encroachment within their traditional homelands, a noted group of Canadian authors, musicians, and climate scientists released a letter of support to the campaign, noting “the time has come for Canada to decide if we want a future where First Nations rights and title are honoured, agreements with other countries to protect the climate are honoured, and our laws are not written by powerful oil companies.”

The letter was signed by more than 20 Canadians, including actor Neve Campbell, writers Joseph Boyden and Michael Ondaatje, dancer and member of the Order of Canada Margie Gillis and climate scientist Dr. Danny Harvey.

"I had the honor years ago to fly to Fort McMurray to sit with some of the Cree Miskisew First Nations and to hear their plight. I was appalled to hear how our country has dishonored treaties formed with the Nations 114 years ago," Neve Campbell said.

"I have always been so very proud to call Canada my home, and now as a Canadian I feel deeply ashamed to see that our government has allowed the selfish profiteering of powerful oil companies, and blatantly ignored the health, well-being, and lives of our countries First Nations, as well as of the well-being of our world’s climate....I fully support Neil Young in his tour to bring attention to these issues.”

"We should all watch the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations and their struggle very closely and with great interest, for their struggle is coming to us all, if it hasn't already," said musician Gord Downie.

While drawing much support, Young has also taken heat from oil companies and other critics over his strong comments condemning Alberta's oil development. However, the controversy drew further attention to the Shell Jackpine mine project, which was approved last year despite ongoing litigation from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

“The federal government’s continued approval of new tar sands mines such as Shell’s Jackpine mine despite the devastating environmental impacts and inadequate consultation with First Nations is insulting and unlawful.  We are encouraged and grateful for all the support we are receiving from across Canada.  This is just the beginning, ” said Chief Allan Adam of the ACFN.

Full text of the open letter:


On his Honour the Treaties tour, Neil Young is doing what poets do - forcing us to examine ourselves. This is hard enough on a personal level and it can be even more difficult when we are being asked to examine the direction in which our country is headed.


The time has come for Canada to decide if we want a future where First Nations rights and title are honoured, agreements with other countries to protect the climate are honoured, and our laws are not written by powerful oil companies. Or not.

Neil’s tour has triggered the Prime Minister’s Office and oil company executives.

 They have come out swinging because they know that this is a hard conversation and they might lose. But that should not stop the conversation from happening.


Instead of focusing on Neil Young's celebrity, Prime Minister Harper should inform Canadians how he plans to honour the treaties with First Nations. This means ensuring the water, land, air, and climate are protected so the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations and other First Nations communities be able to hunt, fish, gather plants and live off the land. Canada signed a treaty with them 114 years ago, and this must be honoured.


The world is watching as we decide who we will become. Will we disregard the treaties we have with First Nations? Will we continue to allow oil companies to persuade our government to gut laws, silence scientists, and disassemble civil society in order to allow reckless expansion of the oil sands?


We are proud to stand with Neil Young as he challenges us all to think about these larger, more profound and humane questions.


Now is the time for leadership and to honour promises that we have made, not personal attacks.


Michael Ondaatje, author, Officer of the Order of Canada

Margi Gillis, dancer,  Member of the Order of Canada

Clayton Ruby, lawyer, Member of the Order of Canada

Dr. David Suzuki, scientist,  Companion of the Order of Canada

Dr. David Schindler, scientist, Officer of the Order of Canada

Stephen Lewis, Companion of the Order of Canada

Joseph Boyden, author      

Gord Downie, musician     

Sarah Harmer, musician   

Naomi Klein, author

Dr. John Stone, scientist    

Tzeporah Berman, author        

Amanda Boyden, author  

Neve Campbell, actor        

Wade Davis, author

Dr. Danny Harvey, climate scientist

J.B. MacKinnon, author     

Dan Managan, musician   

Sid Marty, author  

Andrew Nikiforuk, author

Rick Smith, author

John Valliant, author

Ronald Wright, author      



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