Singer Jully Black was chosen to sing Canada’s national anthem preceding the start of the game NBA All-Star game on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023. Although she knew the lyrics, she decided to sing her own rendition of the song.
The difference between the two versions? One word.
Rather than singing “O Canada our home and native land,” Black chose to sing “O Canada our home on native land.”
Although the difference in the lyrics appears to be minor, the difference in its meaning is everything but.
Black said the choice to make the one-word change was simple.
“I sang the facts,” she said. “We are walking, breathing, living, experiencing life on native land.”
By saying “on” instead of “and,” Black was stating Canadians are currently settled on Indigenous lands. She made it a point for audience members to understand that the place Canadians call home was first home to Native populations. Reaction, to say the least, was mixed. Some were livid, others inspired.
Annishnabee artist, writer and actress, Tamara Podemski said the lyric change was more than just a change of words, it was a statement to the rest of the world.
“There’s so many ways to approach the anthem to reclaim it or challenge it or reconstruct it or deny it,” she said. “It took such bravery to do.”
Podemski said as an Indigenous woman, the Canadian anthem is symbolic for a tricky dichotomy that most Indigenous people face today when presented with symbols of Canadian history.
“One part of it is standing up for what you believe in, and the other is how you choose to live with it,” she said.
The actress said all a person can do is choose their method, and fight the good fight.
“I’m an artist, so I don’t go to Parliament Hill but I do my work in different ways,” Podemski said. “It’s just another way how you can still push against the norm and open people’s eyes.”
Although Black’s move was welcomed with positive reactions across social media, it was also met with negativity.
Former RCMP officer Geoff Buxcey took to Twitter to express his distaste following the performance.
“Some people will do anything for a headline, what a disrespectful thing to do with ‘OUR’ National Anthem,” Buxcey tweeted.
Podemski said those who think the move was disrespectful are simply not aware of the reality of Canada’s history with its Indigenous peoples.
“If you know how this country was built, if you know the abuses and genocide that happened there, it’s impossible to sing that national anthem word for word and stand behind every word,” she said.
Black’s change wasn’t the first adjustment to the national anthem.
Late Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger fought for years to make the song more inclusive and gender-neutral.
The lyrics officially changed in 2018 from “in all thy sons command” to “in all of us command,” a throwback to the original stanza “True patriot love thou dost in us command” by Robert Stanley Weir.
Podemski said something all Canadians can take from the lyric changes, both Black’s and Bélanger’s, is realizing the impact a person’s status can make.
“It’s about acknowledging the privilege of your platform,” she said. “Only a few of us can get to a place where we can have our voice heard on that level, so why not use it.”