The Everlasting People: G.K. Chesterton and the First Nations is a book I picked to read because the premise seems so utterly strange. I admittedly avoid Chesterton somewhat actively, in part because of his extreme anti-Protestantism, and in part because of his misogynistic comments about women. I’m also wary of colonialism and the title smacked of that as a possibility. But something about the description got to me, and I gave it a try. I’m glad I did, because what I found was Matthew J. Milliner’s fascinating study that looks at individual places, their First Nations heritage, and Christianity.
The book is a series of lectures with responses from different scholars. The first lecture, the Sign of Jonah, discusses cave art, the ways in which myths about “savages” have been perpetuated, Chesterton’s own counter words about how cave art should correct some of the myths, other art, Turtle Island, and more. The second lecture is largely about Chicago and the First Nations heritage that was displaced and destroyed there and elsewhere. In this lecture, he offers alternate meanings for the stars on the Chicago flag. The third lecture turns to Chesterton’s poetry and the Byzantine imagery of “Our Lady of Perpetual Help” while uniting it with discussion of white expansion and warfare against First Nations people.
Throughout, G.K. Chesterton is used as a backdrop; whether quotes that speak to Milliner’s specific focus or with more extended discussion. Milliner doesn’t cover up Chesterton’s ills, but rather seeks to offer correction where needed and elucidation when possible.
Each chapter has a response from a different scholar to Milliner, and though these are short, they often offer their own insights and discussion of First Nations culture and the richness of humanity. In almost every section there is some kind of new delight, fascinating detail, or new avenue to explore that is initially unexpected. Milliner and those responding to him offer a wealth of knowledge. The unexpected way they manage to discuss Christianity, First Nations people, First Nations artists, and more (some of the responses themselves are by people from First Nations groups) make the book a wonderful read from front to back.
I don’t really know what I expected when I started The Everlasting People. I also don’t know how to adequately describe it. It’s a fairly slim volume with a rather massive amount of content and encouragement for further reflection and learning. It’s one of those books that makes you think about it long afterwards, and flip it open to a random page to see what might be found. I highly recommend it.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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