A handful of Canadian artists and academics have signed a letter supporting rock legend Neil Young’s recent criticisms of the Canadian government and the development of the Alberta oilsands, adding more fuel to an issue that continues to polarize many Canadians.

Young began his series of blistering attacks when he launched a concert tour aimed at raising money for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. The First Nation is mounting a legal challenge against Ottawa's recent approval of Royal Dutch Shell's planned Jackpine oilsands mine.

The open letter, which was released to media outlets by the Athabasca Chipewyan on Monday, included the names of many prominent Canadians, including musician Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, musician Sarah Harmer, actress Neve Campbell and author Naomi Klein. The letter was also signed by David Suzuki, who led panel discussions during Young’s concert tour.

“Neil’s tour has triggered the Prime Minister’s Office and oil company executives,” the letter said. “They have come out swinging because they know that this is a hard conversation and they might lose. But that should not stop the conversation from happening.”

The letter urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to tell Canadians how he plans to honour treaties with First Nations “ensuring the water, land, air, and climate are protected so the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations and other First Nations communities be able to hunt, fish, gather plants and live off the land.

“The world is watching as we decide who we will become. Will we disregard the treaties we have with First Nations? Will we continue to allow oil companies to persuade our government to gut laws, silence scientists, and disassemble civil society in order to allow reckless expansion of the oil sands?” the letter asked.

The letter finished by saying that “We are proud to stand with Neil Young as he challenges us all to think about these larger, more profound and humane questions.”

Young’s criticisms during the tour prompted a number of exchanges between the rock star and the Prime Minister’s Office. The PMO maintained that oilsands development was fundamental to the Canadian economy. Petroleum producers and provincial politicians also weighed in, with some criticizing Young for getting his facts wrong and spreading misinformation.

Perhaps Young’s most provocative remark was when he compared the oilsands mining projects near Fort McMurray to the devastation wrought by the atomic bomb in Hiroshima in 1945.

The concert tour wrapped up Sunday evening in Calgary. The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations says the tour raised $500,000 for its legal challenges, far surpassing the tour’s original goal of $75,000.

With files from The Canadian Press