(Neil Young at the wheel of 1959 Lincoln with actress Daryl Hannah in the passenger’s seat on the highway to Fort McMurray. Photo courtesy of Eriel Deranger)
By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
It was the last Friday in August and the radio was off in the 1959 Lincoln on the highway from Edmonton to Fort McMurray, Alta., when Neil Young first heard about the daunting legal costs facing the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in their battle against the tar sands.
Eriel Deranger and her two year-old son were in the backseat with Young at the wheel and actress Daryl Hannah in the passenger’s seat. It was Aug. 30 and Young was aiming the nose of the Lincoln, greened-up into a bioelectric machine, toward the tar sands.
Young and Hannah picked up Deranger, who is the main media contact for the First Nation, in Edmonton. During the six and a-half-hour trip–Young and Hannah stopped often for pictures and sightseeing–the conversation turned to the Chipewyan’s myriad legal battles.
“One of the questions Neil had was, ‘How do you afford it?'” said Deranger. “He said, ‘we need to do something about that.'”
Deranger said she remembers Young saying, “Your struggle is so important, not just for your people, but for this planet.”
Young had similar conversations with Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) Chief Allan Adam.
“Really, really strong words came from him when he started talking to the chief directly,” said Deranger. “Neil has a lot of pull in the world and he wanted to use it for some sort of good and he mentioned we should do some sort of benefit concert.”
(Neil Young and Eriel Deranger’s son Uli Chapman-Deranger, 2, on a road trip from Edmonton to Fort McMurray on Aug. 30. Photo courtesy of Eriel Deranger)
Now, those concerts have become a reality. Called the “Honour the Treaties” tour, the concerts kick off on Jan. 12 in Toronto before moving to Winnipeg on Jan. 16, Regina on Jan. 17 and Calgary on Jan. 19.
All the proceeds from the concerts, which will also feature Jazz pianist and singer Diana Krall, go toward the ACFN’s legal fund.
A friend of Young’s first contacted the ACFN about a possible visit in the late spring after the rock’n’roll legend started learning more about the tar sands and the struggles faced by First Nation communities in Alberta. Then, in the late summer, Young left San Francisco on a cross-America drive which took him about 2,900 kilometres to Fort McMurray.
“The fact is Fort McMurray looks like Hiroshima,” said Young, after his trip in a quote that made headlines across the continent. “The Indians up there and the Native peoples are dying. Fuel’s all over, the fumes everywhere. You can smell it when you get to town.”
“All the First Nations people up there are threatened by this. Their food supply is wasted, their treaties are no good. They have a right to live on the land like they always did but there’s no land left that they can live on,” said Young, during his speech. “All the animals are dying. This is truly a disaster. And America is supporting this. It’s very unfortunate that this is where we get the majority of our fuel from.”
Young’s visit to the region, however, was not all doom and gloom. He travelled 120 km south of Janvier, Alta., to take in the Dene games, said Deranger.
“He met people in the community and they gifted him,” said Deranger.
(Chief Allan Adam, actress Daryl Hannah and Neil Young in Janvier, Alta. Photo courtesy of Eriel Deranger)
And now, the community has a new ally.
“He is a very down to earth and humble human being,” said Deranger. “He has a genuine interest in helping.”
Young, however, ran into problems getting back. His Lincoln was running on ethanol E 85 fuel and he ran out in Red Deer, Alta.
“After searching in vain for an E 85 or pure ethanol fuel source in Canada…we were told by Husky Oil reps that they had ‘never heard of E 85,'” wrote Young, in a blog post. “In Canada, where the dirtiest oil on the planet is extracted from the Alberta tar sands at an immeasurable human cost to the First Nations people…there is no freedom to choose an alternative to gasoline at the pump. This is un-Canadian.”