‘Our home on native land’: B.C. Indigenous leaders welcome Jully Black’s anthem at NBA All-Star Game

At this weekend's NBA All-Star Game, singer July Black drew attention for changing the Canadian national anthem to say "our home on native land." As Sarah Chew reports, some Indigenous leaders were in favour of the change.

Award-winning singer Jully Black’s modification of “O Canada” during the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday has sparked a heated debate online, but it is also being applauded by some Indigenous leaders in B.C.

At the event in Salt Lake City, Utah, Black swapped out the anthem’s usual opening line of “O Canada! Our home and native land!” with “O Canada! Our home on native land,” adding a slight emphasis to “on” when she sang.

Read More: ‘Our home on native land’: Singer Jully Black makes small change to O Canada lyrics

It came as a pleasant surprise to the president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs.

“It’s becoming more commonplace for political leaders to do land acknowledgments when they speak to Indigenous peoples, recognizing the territory and the fact that it’s unceded Indigenous land. So it’s a growing trend moving in the right direction,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said.

“Any public acknowledgment such as the one we’re discussing is welcomed.”

Phillip says he would like to see a permanent change in the anthem to better reflect the country’s history.

“I’d like to see the words of the Canadian national anthem change to reflect the true colonial history of this country,” Phillip said.

This sentiment is echoed by xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Chief Wayne Sparrow, who says he would also like to see a permanent change.

“It got a smile on my face,” Sparrow said. “To be recognized like that goes a long way in reconciliation. I think issues like this go a lot farther than people realize.”

Sparrow says it’s not the first time he’s heard the lyrics altered that way, noting he’s heard Indigenous singers make that alteration during various community events.

“I’ve heard that lyric used before, but to hear it out publicly, where people in North America could hear, it was amazing actually, to me, to hear it like that,” he said.

Sparrow says he would love to see the change as a form of acknowledgment in public events in Canada and around the world.

“Personally, I would love to see that,” he said. “We’ve never relinquished our land, and it’s our land … Our ancestors shared this land with the firstcomers,” he said. “To be acknowledged, and hear, and be able to have the whole world hear, would be great.”

Sparking conversations and change 

Sparrow says he plans on reaching out to ask for conversations to start with the federal government.

Although Wilson Williams, an elected councillor and spokesperson for the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation), didn’t say whether or not he would like to see an immediate change to the anthem, he says more discussions need to happen.

“I applaud her for her courage,” said Williams, who suggested Black’s choice “triggers dialogue” surrounding Indigenous history.

“I think it sparks the conversations, whether challenging or not … I read a lot of challenging remarks this morning in regards to what had happened, but I think [you] can’t get nearsighted,” Williams said.

“I think it’s more so a good conversation that needs to happen in regards to the direction we go in as our world evolves, especially around the recognition of Indigenous peoples.”

But not everyone is thrilled about Black’s decision. While many people watching the game appreciated the lyric alteration, others were upset about the change and shared that view online.

Regardless, the conversation isn’t over.

Williams says he expects the topic to come up at the Squamish Nation’s upcoming council meeting. Phillip adds that further conversations, awareness, and change are inevitable and that it’s already happening.

With files from The Canadian Press and Sarah Chew

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