People want Jully Black's modified "O Canada" lyrics to be made permanent

Feb 22 2023, 5:47 pm

Toronto-born singer, songwriter, producer, actor, entrepreneur, activist, and all-around standout Canadian citizen Jully Black continues to make headlines around the globe this week after singing an ever-so-slightly altered version of O Canada at Sunday night’s NBA All-Star Game in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Black, widely hailed as “Canada’s Queen of R&B,” got tongues wagging and jaws dropping while belting out her country’s national anthem ahead of the NBA event on February 18 with one subtle yet powerful change to the lyrics of Canada’s national anthem.

The English lyrics to the nearly 145-year-old track currently start with, per the Government of Canada’s website, “O Canada! Our home and native land!”

Instead of “our home and native land,” Black sang “our home on native land,” substituting a conjunction for a preposition in a way that many argue makes the line more accurate and honest while barely changing the way it sounds.

“Our home and native land is a lie. Our home on native land is the truth,” said the artist in an interview with BBC News this week, revealing that she had stopped singing Canada’s national anthem a few years ago amid the discovery of thousands of unmarked graves at former residential schools.

An estimated 150,000 children attended Canada’s Residential School System between 1831 and 1996, thousands of whom died while within the government-funded system’s care. Mass unmarked grave sites have been discovered at former school sites in BC, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Northwest Territories, and, most recently, in Kenora, Ontario.

After learning more about the Canadian government’s disturbing treatment of Indigenous peoples — which continues on some levels to this day — Black told the BBC that she couldn’t “sing the anthem the other way anymore.”

Her tweak to the lyrics of O Canada paid homage not only to those harmed by Canada’s residential school system but to all First Nations peoples who lived on this land before settlers arrived from Europe.

Black told The Morning Zoom with Sam & Jane on Tuesday morning that she saw the All-Star game as an opportunity to make a statement that was “years in the making.”

The artist revealed that she had consulted with friends who are Indigenous, including her close friend and long-time collaborator Roy Perreault, to ensure the move would be well-received by members of Canada’s First Nations communities. Safe to say, it was.

“I went to bed feeling heard and I woke up feeling seen. Representation is everything for the underrepresented,” said Perreault in a joint post with Black on Instagram following the NBA All-Star game.

“Allies taking a stance on a global platform for you and your entire community and for the land we share is an entirely different, higher level of understanding and powerful show of support. It takes nerve. It takes spine. It takes LOVE.”

While some on Twitter expressed outrage over the Black’s modified lyrics, criticizing the move as a display of performative wokeness, many more were supportive of the change — and continue to be so days later.

“I might actually start singing the anthem again with this change!” responded one Twitter user to footage of the performance.

“Jully Black understood the assignment. She represented the language in which we should be speaking. This is walking in truth. This is allyship. The lands we have come to know as Canada, although many of us call it home, it is ON NATIVE LAND,” wrote another.

“I *highly* approve of this small but powerful word change,” wrote another still. “Petition to make this permanent.”

Some people in Canada say they’ve already been singing the anthem this way, and argue that the official lyrics should be changed.

It wouldn’t be an unprecedented move; the federal government actually changed one line of O Canada in 2018 to make it gender-neutral, turning “all thy sons command” into “all of us command.”

Black is simply happy that a conversation has been sparked, telling The Morning Zoom on Tuesday that she would love to see continued dialogue.

“I don’t think changing the lyric alone is going to be enough,” said the Canada’s Walk of Fame inductee, noting that words mean little if “there isn’t any else being done” about the pressing sanitation, education, and mental health needs of indigenous communities.

“There’s so much more to do. But I really hope that Congress says ‘this is a firestarter for change.’ That will be eventful.”

Lauren O'NeilLauren O'Neil

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