Singer Jully Black advocates for change through Canadian anthem lyric change

Legendary Canadian R&B singer Jully Black was recently honoured at an Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa, for making a tweak to Canada’s national anthem at an NBA All-Star Game in February.

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

National Chief Rose Anne Archibald said in the ceremony the moment “has shifted the consciousness across the country, simply for singing the truth.”

“Today there’s a discussion about changing that word in our national anthem permanently.”

Black says when she finally got the call to sing the national anthem at an NBA game that the Toronto Raptors were playing in, she says she knew she had to make the most of it.

“The mission was, ‘how do I make it meaningful and have all Canadians feel included with a sense of pride?'” she told CityNews.

The Juno Award-winner says she decided to swap out one word in the anthem’s opening line from “O Canada! Our home and native land!” to “Our home on native land” in an effort to recognize the Indigenous peoples who lived on the land before European settlers.

The R&B singer says she was initially shocked by the incredible response, but says she was ready to meet the moment because she was prepared.

“If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready — stay prepared. Whatever it is, it’s never too late to catch a dream. It’s been a dream for at least 20-something years, as long as there’s been a Raptors team, [to sing] the national anthem.”

‘We are better together’

During the ceremony in Ottawa, she was presented with an eagle feather wrapped with a blanket during a Blanketing Ceremony by AFN Knowledge Keepers.

The singer said she was “grateful” while holding back tears.

“Thank you for welcoming me into your hearts, I didn’t realize my actions would garner such a response…we are better together.”

Afterward, Black reprised her rendition of O Canada, which prompted cheers from the crowd.

a head shot of singer jully black who was recently honoured for singing O canada as our home on native land

Jully Black was recently honoured at an Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa. (Courtesy Jully Black media relations)

“As an artist, Jully is a truth-teller. She created an energetic shift in February when she changed one word in O Canada!” Archibald said during the ceremony.

“We have always been singing it that way I’m sure — our home on native land. She shifted consciousness in that moment on a huge international stage, simply for singing the truth.”

Black says that being recognized by Archibald has been one of her greatest honours.

“To be the first-ever female National Chief. That’s like having a female Prime Minister. So I sat as a student, I’m forever grateful and she’ll be forever a mentor,” Black said.

Reflecting on the moment, Black says she is hopeful it will help encourage others to take a stand.

“I really hope that all Canadians realize that there is power in being courageous and bold and standing in the gap for other people. And this could be someone going to HR to support someone at work, or standing up for the LGBTQ + community, someone being bullied in the schoolyard. Kids are talking about this. I really hope the takeaway is that truly, we are better together.”

In terms of what’s next, Black says there are a lot of exciting projects to look out for this year. She is set to headline the TD Toronto Jazz Festival on June 23.

For more on Black’s work and music, you can visit her website. 

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