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Last autumn, when rocker Neil Young was working on a film about CO2, he decided that he should make a trip to Canada’s Fort McMurray oilsands, in Alberta, to see firsthand what was really going on. What he found frightened him.

“When I say Fort McMurray, I am referring to the oilsands, the tar sands and the industrial projects going on around there,” said Young in a CBC interview. “Every day those projects go on, they put out as much CO2 as all the automobiles in Canada on that day. So for every day that goes by it’s like there are twice as many cars on the road.”

But what also worried him was the misinformation being spread about the environmental impact of the production.

“On the way [to an oilsands site] I saw a reclamation site by the side of the road, which actually is not a reclamation site but it’s what they call a reclamation site for publicity. It’s the first of many mistruths that I encountered. It’s not a reclamation site. It’s not on a tar sands site. It’s a pile of dirt that was taken from another place, piled up, and trees grew out of it. But I hadn’t gotten to the site yet.

“When I got to the site, it’s the best looking one of them all apparently, but it scared the hell out of me. I looked at it and I thought, as an environmentally concerned Canadian, I was shocked at what I saw. […] What is going on around [Fort McMurray]is the ugliest environmental disaster that I not only have ever seen but that I could even comprehend. It is huge.”

Young decided to speak to the Athabasca Chipewyan Chief Allan Adam, a First Nation tribe directly affected by the oilsands upstream. In a press conference with Young, the chief said that his community has seen their fish become inedible, wildlife disappear and cancer rates skyrocket since the oilsands began production. The expansion of the oilsands production, they claim, violates their treaties.

To help raise funds to support the First Nation’s legal defence fund to have their treaties honoured, Neil Young and Diana Krall, another Canadian singer, staged “Honour the Treaties” concerts in four Canadian cities (Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina and Calgary).

“This concert series should have happened years ago,” says Young, "when all of the things that are happening now started. This is just to bring awareness to people who care in Canada, and people who may not be aware of what is going on in the west. I always felt that Canada was a different place, and where the values were different, and that we cherished the natural surroundings that we’re in, but my visit to Alberta changed a lot of that for me. This government has ignored science to the point where science is not even an issue. This is a tour of broken promises across Canada. This government is trading the integrity of Canada for money. Make no mistake about it.

“I was sitting with the chief in the teepee on the reserve. I was hearing the stories. I saw that the cancer rate was up among all the tribes. This is not a myth. This is true. You can either believe me and the First Nations people, or you can believe the oil companies and the Canadian government. And you’ve got to look at the motivation. Why would anybody say anything, why would I say anything, and why would the First Nations people say anything if there wasn’t something wrong? And then look at the motivation of the Canadian government and the oil companies that they’re working with.”

Hear the whole CBC interview here.

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