Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
With a star blanket draped across her shoulders and an eagle feather in her hand, Jully Black sang by request “O Canada” at the Special Chiefs Assembly on April 3. She sang her version “our home on Native land” to applause.
It was Black’s inclusion of that line—her one word change from “our home and native land” to “our home on Native land”—when she performed the Canadian national anthem at the NBA All-Star game in February in Salt Lake City, Utah that resulted in the Assembly of First Nations chiefs recognizing her.
“As an artist, Jully is a truth teller and she represents how artists are a part of the conscience of society. She created an energetic shift in February when she changed one word in O Canada,” said National Chief RoseAnne Archibald. “She shifted consciousness in the moment on a huge international stage simply for singing the truth.”
Following her performance, the Jamaican-Canadian R&B singer was both lauded and criticized. Some said Black’s switch to “on Native land” was a true reflection of settlers coming to and taking land that Indigenous peoples had lived on for time immemorial. Others felt disrespected, claiming that whoever was born in Canada that they were “native” to Canada.
Speaking to the change, Black, a Juno-award winner, has explained her actions as, "Our home and native land is a lie. Our home on Native land is the truth."
She has said that truth is needed for reconciliation.
Archibald recognized the special relationship between Black people and Indigenous people as she referenced the role Indigenous people played in helping Black people escaping slavery from the United States through the Underground Railroad.
“Some of the most sacred connections we have as First Nations is with our Afro-Indigenous relatives, our Black allies, and we must recognize and honour them,” she said.
Archibald called Black a great woman leader and thanked her for her courage.
Wiping tears from her face and engulfed in the blanket, Black said to the chiefs, “I didn’t realize that my action would garner such a response. But on behalf of the Black community, I say we are one. We are better together.”
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Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.