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Desmond Tutu visits oilsands

People in Fort McMurray seem open to hearing what South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has to say about aboriginal treaties and the oilsands.

Tutu is in the northern Alberta city for a two-day conference on the issue and is to take an aerial tour of the massive industrial development this afternoon.

A news conference where he will take questions from reporters is also scheduled for today and he is to deliver the keynote address on Saturday.

The archbishop, 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.

Tutu is the latest high-profile critic to visit Fort McMurray.

Syncrude employee Melvin Campbell says he feels Tutu's opinion carries more weight than that of others who have been critical of the oilsands.

"He has a little bit more credibility than the actors and the players," said Syncrude employee Melvin Campbell. "Desmond Tutu has a lot of political experience and public ear. I hope he uses it well."

Earlier this year, musician Neil Young played concerts in several cities to support the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation after he visited the region. In 2010, Hollywood director James Cameron toured the oilsands and the community of Fort Chipewyan.

Oil worker Jay Hardy said Tutu's words should be heard.

"He has a good idea of the way that the world should be with the environment and with people living in it," Hardy said. "I respect the man. I think we all should. He has good philosophy."

Brigitte Mbanga said whatever Tutu has to say will still only be one man's opinion.

"He is a more prominent person than the Hollywood celebrities that have come here," she said. "His comments may be helpful to the government or the oilsands, but it's like every other person's comment."

In an opinion column earlier this month in the British newspaper the Guardian, the 82-year-old Tutu 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.''

The Canadian Press

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