Neil Young to play benefit concerts for First Nation fighting oilsands

Music legend Neil Young is playing four concerts in his native Canada to benefit a northern Alberta aboriginal band fighting oilsands development in its territory.

Music legend Neil Young is playing four concerts in his native Canada to benefit a northern Alberta aboriginal band fighting oilsands development in its territory.

Canadian jazz singer and pianist Diana Krall is to appear as a special guest.

Tickets for the January shows scheduled for Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina and Calgary go on sale Tuesday.

“The theme of the concerts is honour the treaties,” said Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation spokeswoman Eriel Deranger. “All the ticket sales, all the proceeds from the concerts, not a single cent goes to anyone other than (the First Nation).”

Young made his opinion of oilsands development clear when he visited the band and the region last fall. He compared the sight of massive open-pit mines to Hiroshima after the nuclear bomb blast.

Young is one of a number of global entertainment celebrities who have visited the oilsands. The list includes actresses Darryl Hannah and Neve Campbell and film director James Cameron.

All have offered to help local aboriginals in their protest over what they say is exploding development occurring on their traditional lands without adequate consultation.

Young’s gesture is by far the largest, said Deranger. The band hadn’t even asked for support during his brief visit in early September.

“When he left, we didn’t ask him. We were kind of surprised by his, ’I’m going to do something for you.’ We’ve heard that before.

“It’s fantastic to have someone follow through and giving directly to a community, the grassroots people.”

The Athabasca Chipewyan band is gearing up for a major legal fight against the latest oilsands development to be approved.

The federal government announced on Friday that Shell Canada’s Jackpine mine expansion could go ahead. The approval came before a 35-day delay to give the band a chance to make its concerns known to Ottawa had expired.

The review panel that looked at the project concluded it would create irreversible environmental damage. It said Jackpine would mean the permanent loss of thousands of hectares of wetlands, which would harm migratory birds, caribou and other wildlife and wipe out traditional plants used for generations.

It also said Shell’s plans for mitigation are unproven and warned that some impacts would probably approach levels that the environment couldn’t support.

The company has purchased about 730 hectares of former cattle pasture in northwestern Alberta to help compensate for the 8,500 hectares of wetland that will be lost forever.

Shell has said the expansion will double its production and create 750 jobs.

Deranger said the band plans to file legal action against the development in January.

“The finances that will come from (the concerts) will be beneficial,” she said. “This type of financial fundraising strategy with such a big name can make or break our ability to move forward with a large legal strategy.”

Geraldine Anderson of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said Young is welcome to voice his opinion.

“We would also encourage Mr. Young and his fans to learn about the innovation and technical advances that are helping to develop oilsands and develop (them) responsibly.”

The benefit concerts are to be held Jan. 12 in Toronto (Massey Hall), Jan. 16 in Winnipeg (Centennial Concert Hall), Jan. 17 in Regina (Conexus Arts Centre) and Jan. 19 in Calgary (Jack Singer Concert Hall).

Deranger said the news is a huge emotional boost to the band.

“Sometimes we feel as though our work and our struggle is going unnoticed. But when you have the backing and support of people like Neil Young, it revitalizes the spirit of the community and strengthens our struggles to move forward.”

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