Nelly Furtado Says Native Youth Lifted Her Spirits After Native-Themed ‘O Canada

Courtesy / Tony Duncan and Nelly Furtado - Nelly Furtado says she thanks the people who were mean-spirited on Social media. She wrote that because of Native school children, her spirits were lifted.

Nelly Furtado Says Native Youth Lifted Her Spirits After Native-Themed ‘O Canada’ Backlash.

Nelly Furtado was attacked on social media for Native version of O’Canada accompanied by Tony Duncan.

After singer/songwriter Nelly Furtado performed a Native-themed version of Canada’s national anthem during the 2016 NBA All-Star Game accompanied by Native American flutist Tony Duncan, she was blasted on on social media.

Though some praised her efforts to incorporate First Nations culture to the anthem, she was highly criticized for her approach. A year after the social media frenzy in which Nelly Furtado was criticized, she addressed the response in a personal article she wrote for titled “After ‘O Canada’, An Unexpected Letter Taught Me A Valuable Lesson About Xenophobia.”

In her article she writes:

Last year, when I was invited to sing “O Canada” at the NBA All-Star Game, I was happy for the opportunity to represent the city I live in, Toronto, as it hosted the world’s largest celebration of one of my favorite sports.

In the article, Nelly Furtado — who has performed with Duncan and other Native dancers on a number of occasions — says that as she prepared to perform at the Air Canada Centre, she noticed female dancers gyrating on a stage, her face burning at “the old-school display of misogyny,” and set her mind to perform a respectful rendition of “O Canada” “from the bottom of my Canadian Portuguese heart.”

Nelly Furtado later noticed her name was trending on Twitter that included words of “hostility, praise, ignorance, kindness, and nothing in between.” One sportscaster sent out a disturbing tweet.

Nelly Furtado described the tweet:

“I noticed that a semi-famous male sportscaster had sent out a sexist and mental-health marginalizing tweet which started the windfall. In his tweet, he wondered if I was having a “breakdown” and said that it was the “worst anthem he had ever heard.” I was mortified and angry.”

Nelly Furtado was also told to “Go back to Portugal.”

A few months later at Canadian Music Week, where she was receiving the Allan Slaight Humanitarian Award, Nelly Furtado was invited to the 6th grade class at the Kiwetin School, Timiskaming First Nation in Notre Dame du Nord, Quebec.

The 6th grade teacher Craig Parry had played the recording of Nelly Furtado’s version of “O Canada” for the students who loved the rendition and thought the comments on social media to be mean-spirited, rude and disrespectful. They reached out to her and invited her to the school. Nelly Furtado accepted.

“They had made Tony and I beautiful, handmade cards to let us know that they liked our version, and to remind us not to listen to the “bullies” and the “mean” people,” wrote Furtado.

“I broke into tears of relief and promised myself and my daughter that I would visit those students and thank them in person. My manager discreetly contacted the school principal to set aside a date. At the crack of dawn on a beautiful day in May, I picked up Tony, Sean and Karl, and we shared the eight-hour drive up to Timiskaming First Nation.

The principal quietly ushered us in as we prepared to surprise a gym full of students and teachers. I burst out of the gym closet singing my song “Powerless” with Tony hoop dancing to my right. It was one of the best days of my life. I told those children how much their kindness meant to us, and how their act of compassion had erased the sting of hate from thousands of strangers. We passed out the cards so that their peers could read them too, and I called the Grade 6 students to their feet individually so that we could all applaud and celebrate them,” she wrote.

Nelly Furtado says in her article that the greatest moment of the day was when a student asked her to perform “O Canada.”

Today, Nelly Furtado says she thanks the people who were mean-spirited on social media. She wrote that because of the children, her spirits were lifted and healed as a fellow woman of color.

“This experience [at the school] galvanized my belief that compassion lives inside each and every one of us. “GO BACK TO PORTUGAL” hit me where it hurt. It spiraled me right back to my kindergarten playground where I was the only ethnic minority in my entire class. I never thought that a few wise, beautiful children at another playground some 30 years later would end up healing that wound completely.”