FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. – South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu is expected to open a two-day conference on aboriginal treaties and the oilsands today by answering questions from reporters and taking an aerial tour of the massive industrial development.
He is scheduled to appear with industry, aboriginal and political leaders in Fort McMurray.
Tutu is to deliver the keynote address on Saturday.
Tutu, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the fight against apartheid, has taken strong stands on climate change and against projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline.
In an opinion column earlier this month in the British newspaper the Guardian, the 82-year-old called the Keystone pipeline proposal to move oilsands bitumen from Alberta to the U.S. appalling.
His article spoke about a religious responsibility to fight against climate change.
“It is a responsibility that begins with God commanding the first human inhabitants of the Garden of Eden ‘to till it and keep it.’ To keep it, not to abuse it, not to destroy it.”
Tutu has signed a petition against the pipeline. He has called for boycotts of events sponsored by the fossil fuel industry, for health warnings on oil company ads and for divestment of oil industry investments held by universities and municipalities.
Tutu suggested the Keystone XL pipeline could increase Canada’s carbon emissions by 30 per cent.
The title of the conference is As Long As the Rivers Flow: Coming Back to the Treaty Relationship In Our Time. It’s intended to discuss the need for renewal of treaty relationships in light of extensive resource development such as the oilsands.
It’s co-sponsored by the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and the Toronto law firm Olthuis Kleer Townsend, in which former Ontario premier and one-time federal Liberal leader Bob Rae is a partner. Rae is scheduled to be one of the speakers at the conference. So are former Northwest Territories premier Stephen Kakfwi and former Syncrude Canada president James Carter.
Representatives from the Alberta and federal government are not expected to attend although they were invited, said conference spokeswoman Eriel Deranger.
Tutu is the latest high-profile critic to visit the oilsands city.
Earlier this year, musician Neil Young played concerts in several cities to support the Athabasca Chipewyan after he visited the region. In 2010, Hollywood director James Cameron toured the oilsands and the community of Fort Chipewyan.