An Open Letter to Neil Young
I have friends who consider you family for the way your music is so influential in their lives, others who consider you among the pantheon of rock and roll gods, and even more who, after your recent decision to tour under Honour the Treaties, have jumped on your side. I want to, first off, say thank-you. We need more people who have a platform and are willing to use it to speak against injustice, to demand change, and to bring light to issues that those in power are determined to keep quiet. Your interviews and statements against the Canadian government’s repeated attempts to destroy the land through the Alberta oilsands and fracking elsewhere, and your connection of these problems to the oppression of Indigenous peoples, is to be respected and appreciated.
Honouring the treaties made between Indigenous nations and Western governments - originally, the British and then the Canadian government - is an important step in enacting transformation. These first treaties outlined what it would mean to sustainably share the land, to respect and protect the land for future generations, respect the autonomy of nations, and live together in respectful and meaningful ways (among other things). They were often understandings of friendship. Indigenous treaties were not just pacts between governments (as we often understand treaties) but something that was lived out on a daily and individual basis, they were meant to guide how settlers and Indigenous peoples were to be in relationship with one another.
These originally treaties have been broken, though. Land was/is stolen and occupied, people exterminated, languages and ways of living denigrated and destroyed – respectful relationships were not maintained. The Canadian nation was built through the destruction of treaties and Indigenous peoples; so, honouring the treaties is important because it challenges the very structures and legitimacy of how Canada came to be. If we recognize Indigenous nationhood (treaties are only made between nations…), that means we recognize Indigenous peoples’ right to self-government and self-determination. By honoring the treaties, we honor Indigenous nations, we honor Indigenous nations’ right to their land, and we honor respectful relationships between settlers and Indigenous peoples. Honouring treaties is about enacting a politics of justice and love. This is in opposition to forceful occupation, genocide, containment, and the stripping of basic human rights – all things that happened (and continue to happen) in the building of Canada.
There are reports that, this summer, you plan to play a concert in Israel. The Israeli state is also built on forceful occupation, genocide, containment and the stripping of basic human rights of Palestinians (the Indigenous people of that land). There is a reason that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is known as one of the staunchest supporters of Israel – the ongoing oppression of Indigenous peoples in Canada parallels the ongoing oppression of Indigenous peoples in Palestine. Israel is also called an apartheid state, including by those in South Africa that experienced the infamous Apartheid there. Military checkpoints, forced separation, forced evictions, destruction of land, and daily assaults by the military and settler para-military organizations are just a part of it – Indigenous Palestinians are suffering under an unjust state.
There were no treaties made between Israel and Palestine, so Palestinians cannot call for change by the honoring of original agreements. So they have tried to call for change in another way, through Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS). This is a similar strategy to what happened when formal apartheid existed in South Africa, and is credited for being part of the change there. Palestinians are calling for BDS and hoping that those of us who wish to see change will honour this. Much like honouring the treaties, honouring BDS is the assertion of Indigenous nationhood and the assertion of more respectful and just relationships.
Mr. Young, if you wish to honour the treaties and support Indigenous nationhood, playing in Israel is the opposite of this; it is rejecting the call from Palestinians, failing to honor their struggle and, subsequently, supporting and legitimizing their continued oppression by the Israeli state. It would be hypocritical to support and champion respectful relationships with Indigenous peoples here in Canada, and then turn around and reject respectful relationships with Indigenous peoples in Palestine.
Thank you for your support of treaties and, subsequently, Indigenous nationhood here in Canada. Please think about what this means for the possibility of you playing a concert in Israel. Please support Indigenous nationhood both here and in Palestine by honouring the Palestinians' call for BDS. The famed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated “no one is free until we are all free.” Please support freedom for Indigenous peoples around the world because we are all connected in this struggle against oppression.