‘Our home on native land’: How a lyric change sparked long overdue reflections

During the NBA’s All-Star Weekend in February, singer Jully Black made a bold statement when singing Canada’s national anthem. Performing live in a full stadium in Salt Lake City, the Toronto born singer altered the lyric “Home and native land” to “Home on Native Land” with emphasizing the word “on.”

Now, RAVEN is urging everyone to sign a petition calling for an official lyric change: sign it here.

The intention was to draw attention to Indigenous rights in Canada – and it worked.

In an interview with the BBC, Black says that she quit singing the national anthem — ‘O Canada’ —  in 2021, after several Indigenous communities in the country found evidence of unmarked graves at former residential schools where Indigenous children had been forcibly removed from their families and were indoctrinated into Christian ideologies and ways of life.

“Our home and native land is a lie.”

Black transformed her moment in the international spotlight into an opportunity to get us all thinking  about the lyrics to “O Canada” that  she and many others were taught to  sing from an early age. “Our home and native land is a lie; Our home on Native Land is the truth,” she says.

Canada has a long history of assimilation of Indigenous people that still continues today. In recent years, calls for reconciliation and reparations between Indigenous People and the Canadian government have been growing. By failing to include mention of the First Nations who have lived here since time immemorial, , the national anthem — much like many Canadian laws and policies — has been used as a tool of erasure to further dispossess Indigenous peoples.

Black’s performance elicited a mixture of admiration and rage on social media and in the press. Many of those who were  critical of the lyric change made the argument  that Canada is ‘native land’ to anyone who was born here, while others support the change, even going  so far as recommending that swapping “home on native land” for “home on native land” should be made permanent. . Still others  came forward and shared  that they have been singing the anthemBlack’s way for years.  Others suggested  that the lyrics should be changed to “Our home on Indigenous Land.” One way or another, the musical statement has clearly caused some long overdue reflections all across the country.

A free educational platform

Here at RAVEN, we applaud Jully Black for starting a powerful conversation.  The case to change the anthem is grounded in reality: only 50% of land in what is now known as Canada is covered by any treaty, with the rest of the country consisting of unceded land over which jurisdiction by the Crown is disputed by many Indigenous Nations who have never surrendered their title to ancestral lands. . We are happy to see the conversations that have emerged thanks to Black, and encourage Canadians to continue to look critically at the country’s history – and present. 

As the furious fallout from Black’s simple word-swap demonstrates, conversations about colonialism and Indigenous land rights are not easy.  Dialogue can often go sideways when talking to family and friends about the complexities of how we got to where we are right now as a country is tricky. After all, most people in the country did not grow up learning about concepts like treaty rights or Indigenous sovereignty.  This is why RAVEN created a free educational platform, Home on Native Land, a self guided online course designed to nourish people with up-to-date information about Indigenous justice in Canada. The  course title “Home on Native Land” was chosen several years prior to Jully Black’s performance, but was motivated by the same impulse:  to address the inequities that exist within Canada, and to spark meaningful dialogue about how we can work towards finding remedies and repairing relationships. 

In an interview with the BBC, Anishinaabe professor of Native Studies at the University of Manitoba Niigaan Sinclair explained that, “What Jully Black did was, she shared her power and her opportunity to give us attention. It should be a model for every Canadian.”  

We hope that these conversations will continue to unfold and are excited to be part of furthering dialogue on issues surrounding Indigenous rights in Canada.  To jump in, register for Home on Native Land here:  homeonnativeland.com 

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