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Jully Black's subtle change to anthem evokes strong reaction: 'What solidarity can look like'

Black swapped the word “on” instead of “and,” making the lyric in O Canada: "Our home on native land."

Canadian singer Jully Black proved that words matter.

Over the weekend the Juno-winning musician chose to change one word while belting the national anthem at an All Stars basketball game in Salt Lake City, Utah. Black swapped the word “on” instead of “and,” making the lyric: "Our home on native land."

"I wouldn't have sung it if I didn't believe it should be this," Black told The Canadian Press.

"This one word would significantly give honour, support and recognition to the Indigenous community who have often been overlooked and unrecognized."

The move, while subtle, has ignited a lot of reaction on both sides. While some feel the national anthem shouldn’t be toyed with, many praised the move as a way to educate others and honour the truth of Canada’s history. Others were happy to see the rest of Canada catching up with the altered lyrics, which have been referenced for years by many in Indigenous communities.

Canadian singer Jully Black singe Canada's National Anthem ahead of the NBA All-Star game between Team Giannis and Team LeBron at the Vivint arena in Salt Lake City, Utah, February 19, 2023. (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)
Canadian singer Jully Black singe Canada's National Anthem ahead of the NBA All-Star game between Team Giannis and Team LeBron at the Vivint arena in Salt Lake City, Utah, February 19, 2023. (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

Honey Johnson is the centre director of UpLift Black, a Barrie-Ont.-based non-profit focused on social justice and inclusion. Johnson, who uses they/them pronouns and is two-spirited and Afro-Indigenous, says while it’s a small action, it has a big impact, especially for people who are ignorant to the history of Indigenous people’s relationship to the land.

“Not a lot of people understand the importance of knowing these things,” they tell Yahoo News Canada. “A lot of people hide it under the rug or don’t care about it, so for (Black) to speak out about it publicly in a big setting like that, it’s definitely going to turn heads and make a difference and be impactful.”

Megan Julian is from Shxwhá:y Village, a smaller group of Stó:lō Nation, and acts as Indigenous research manager with Archipel, an Indigenous-owner research and consulting firm. She says the move didn’t really surprise her, especially since she’s used the same wording when singing the national anthem herself. However, it still managed to inspire a visceral reaction.

“Actually watching the video, a part of my emotional reaction is that my heart kind of flutters but actually seeing it happen on a broader stage is something myself and other Indigenous people across Canada know and have been experiencing and living with,” she says. “I think it was kind of a sign of maybe what solidarity can look like between equity deserving groups.”

As for the people who are critical about having the national anthem altered, Julian says that’s likely a symptom of settler communities and people in Canada who are used to the narrative that focuses on their stories. What Black did was a 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 garnered intense feedback online from both those who felt it was necessary, and those who think the national anthem is not something that is meant to be tampered with.

Indigenous artist Chippewar pointed out that he made t-shirts with the wording “Oh Canada your home on native land” nine years ago, while giving Black her props.

Others on Twitter felt Black’s choice to change the lyrics wasn't appropriate.

The national anthem has changed in its official capacity in recent years. In 2018, the lyric “in all thy sons command” changed to “in all of us command” to make it gender-neutral.