Small adjustment, but big difference: Canadian sings alternative text national anthem

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Jully Black performing at the NBA All-Star Game
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Canadian R&B singer Jully Black has been around for a while, but when she was allowed to sing the Canadian national anthem at the NBA All-Star Game in the US on Sunday, she was more nervous than ever. Not because of the audience of millions who watched live, but because of her adaptation of the English version of O Canada!. That adjustment was right at the beginning, in the second sentence.

Black changed Our home and native land to Our home on native land. That means something like: “Our home on land of original inhabitants”.

Jully Black Performs The Canadian Anthem |  2023 #NBAAllStar

Jully Black Performs The Canadian Anthem | 2023 #NBAAllStar

That was of course no coincidence. In a podcast by a Sudanese-Canadian writer, she said she hadn’t sung the national anthem in years, precisely because of that second sentence. The reason for this was the revelations about the crimes that the Canadian state has committed against the original inhabitants of Canada.

Indigenous peoples such as the First Nations and the Inuit have been discriminated against and deprived of rights since the arrival of the Europeans. In recent years, for example, it has become clear that their children were being taken away from their parents on a large scale in the 19th and 20th centuries. They were put in boarding schools under often appalling conditions, where their own language and culture were taken away from them.

Partly because of this, Black no longer wanted to sing the national anthem. But then came the invitation to O Canada! at the basketball gala in Salt Lake City, USA. After consultation with indigenous friends, she decided to accept the invitation, but with that one adjustment. “Our home and native land is a lie,” she told the BBC. “Our home on native land is the truth.”

Mixed reactions

Professor of Indigenous Studies Nuugaan Sinclair of the University of Manitoba thinks it is a good thing that Black draws attention to the fate of the original Canadians in this way.

“The national anthem has been forced upon us, as have the flag, the laws and political policies. The more we challenge that, the better,” he told the BBC. But Sinclair thinks it’s more important that the living standards of the indigenous population improve.

There is also criticism. Native land can also mean native land. “Canada is the birthplace of everyone who was born in Canada, no matter when,” the Toronto Sun columnist Lorrie Goldstein tweeted. “‘Our home on native land’ would have been better. But that doesn’t sound right.”

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