Rock giant and socially conscious artist Neil Young has long stood up on the right side of a number of issues that are close to Indian country and has a history of supporting Native activism. Back in 2014, he told concertgoers at a Toronto performance that the Alberta Oil Sands were an example of the “greediest, most destructive and most disrespectful demonstration of something that has run amok.”
Now comes the release of Young’s latest video, Indian Giver, produced to call attention to the Native water protectors in North Dakota. Some of Young’s lyrics are as follows:
There’s a battle raging on the sacred land,
Our brothers and sisters had to take a stand.
And the chorus is a rhythmic and persistent repetition of the line, I wish somebody would share the news.
Young’s last studio album, which came out in 2015 and was called The Monsanto Years, is a multi-song invective against agribusinesses. (Young was a co-founder of Farm Aid, a decades-old effort to help family farms.) In July of this year, he released the live album Earth, which he told Rolling Stone was driven by his consideration of animals because “they don't have this uptight vibe. They don't have all the hatred and everything."
Young has campaigned against big oil for years, and he drives a car that runs on plant-based ethanol. Along with Willie Nelson and Lakota hip-hop artist Frank Waln, he performed at a concert to rally supporters opposing the XL Keystone Pipeline. Earlier in 2016 he provided the background music for the American Indian College Fund’s new advertising campaign.
When the Apache Stronghold movement traveled throughout the United States to oppose the degradation of sacred Oak Flat by the Resolution Copper Mine, Young welcomed the Apache to drum at one of his concerts in New Jersey before they rallied in Washington D.C. The iconic performer has also been actively engaged in First Nations’ battles. He donated the proceeds of select concerts on his Honor the Treaties Tour to the legal fund for the Athabasca Chipewyan’s struggle to halt the expansion of the Alberta Tar Sands.
As a mercurial, beloved artist, he has never been known to be swayed by expectations of the public. However, he has consistently shown sensitivity to the concerns of Indians. One example of this comes from his response to reactions after this video was first released on Facebook last Friday (where it quickly surpassed 750,000 views). Though the video was less than 24 hours old, when a fan commented that his passing reference to squaw in the song was offensive, Young responded immediately with the note, “Thanks for bringing the word squaw to my attention. I will change it as soon as I can get back into the studio. I mean no offense. I will replace squaw with 'beautiful’.” Shortly after, the video was removed from Facebook and YouTube, and was reposted on Sunday.
Follow ICTMN’s Arts and Entertainment, Pow Wows and Sports Editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter -@VinceSchilling