Jully Black changes the lyrics to O Canada during the NBA All-Star Game
Canadian singer Jully Black proved that words matter.
Over the weekend, the Juno-winning musician decided to change a word while belting out the national anthem at an All-Stars basketball game in Salt Lake City, Utah. Black swapped the word “on” for “and” and made the lyrics: “Our home on native land”.
“I wouldn’t have sung it if I didn’t believe it was meant to be,” Black told the Canadian Press.
“That one word would bring honor, support and recognition to the indigenous community that has often been overlooked and unrecognized.”
The move, while subtle, has sparked a ton of reactions from both sides. While some believe the national anthem should not be played with, many hailed the move as a way to educate others and honor the truth of Canadian history. Others were happy to see the rest of Canada catching up with the altered texts that have been referenced by many Indigenous communities for years.
Honey Johnson is the Center Director of UpLift Black, a nonprofit based in Barrie, Ontario focused on social justice and inclusion. Johnson, who uses she/them pronouns and is dual spirit and Afro-Indigenous, says that while it’s a small action, it has a big impact, especially for people who don’t know the history of Indigenous people’s relationship with the land .
“Not many people understand the importance of knowing these things,” they say Yahoo News Canada. “A lot of people hide it under the rug or don’t care, so if (Black) speaks about it publicly in a big space like this, it’s definitely going to grab attention and make a difference and have an impact.” ”
Hailing from the village of Shxwhá:y, a smaller group of the Stó:lō Nation, Megan Julian serves as the Indigenous Research Manager at Archipel, a research and advisory firm for Indigenous owners. She says the move didn’t really surprise her, especially since she used the same phrasing when she sang the national anthem herself. However, he still managed to evoke a visceral response.
“When I watch the video, part of my emotional response is my heart kind of flutters, but actually seeing it on a broader stage is something that I and other Indigenous Peoples across Canada know and have experienced and live with “, she says. “I think it was kind of a sign of what solidarity between groups that deserve justice can look like.”
As for people critical of changing the national anthem, Julian says it’s likely a symptom of settler communities and people in Canada who are used to the narrative centered on their stories. What Black did was shift to focus on other stories and experiences.
“It can be a little divisive and uncomfortable when you have to see it on an international stage,” she says.
The move to swap lyrics has received intense feedback online from those who felt it was necessary and from those who feel the national anthem is not something that should be tampered with.
Indigenous artist Chippewar pointed out that nine years ago he made T-shirts that read “Oh Canada, your home on homeland” while giving Black her props.
Others on Twitter felt Black’s decision to change the lyrics was not appropriate.
The national anthem has changed its official meaning in recent years. In 2018, the “in all thy sons command” lyrics were changed to “in all of us command” to make it gender neutral.