Matthew R Anderson

The Everlasting People: G.K. Chesterton and the First Nations (or: “Misjudging Milliner”)

I wasn’t expecting to like “The Everlasting People.” I hadn’t heard of the book, and hadn’t asked to review it. When the review editor for the Oxford journal Literature and Theology, Alana Vincent (now an Associate Professor at Umeå University), asked me if I’d be interested, my first reaction was to go into that quick calculation academics do, of whether a free book will be worth the work.

Turns out it was. The reason I’m calling this “Misjudging Milliner” was because that’s exactly what I was guilty of. Traumatized by the previous American president’s and administration’s links to certain churches, and by the ongoing efforts of many American so-called Christians who seem to be doing everything right now NOT to love their neighbours and practice justice, it seemed from the get-go that a book aimed at evangelicals would definitely not be one I’d like. As a settler trying to do my bit for more justice and for Treaty respect in relations with Indigenous peoples, I was pretty sure the book would be more cringe- than compliment-worthy.

I was wrong.

Milliner has gone through the hard work of learning about the First Nations of Turtle Island. He has developed relations, listened more than spoke, and learned at the feet of his Indigenous mentors.

G.K. Chesterton, who features on the book’s cover, is a bit of an excuse for Milliner to grab his non-Indigenous, evangelical audience (whom he is presuming like Chesterton) and keep their attention long enough to teach them a bit about the Land where they actually live – and not early 20th-century England, where they do not. I applaud this aim.

In the places where the book presumed a U.S. audience or made references to the “insider language” or experiences of evangelicalism, I still occasionally found it grating. However, I was not the target audience, and there were fewer such moments than I’d assumed.

There was much to learn in the book. I especially appreciated the example of someone who takes the time to learn the Indigenous history and culture of where they live and work. Mid-western Americans especially, but non-Indigenous North Americans in general, will appreciate Milliner’s journey, and the illustrations he uses. All of us who are non-Indigenous and living in North America should be on the journey Matthew Milliner is taking.

Oxford Press has made it possible for me to share the book review (normally it’s behind a paywall). You can find the link here in case you’d like to read it!

Irish Unsettling

Since arriving in Dublin, I often stumble across reminders of how the Irish were also a colonized people. Sometimes it’s graffiti: “Royalists not welcome,” scrawled on brick. Sometimes it’s living culture, the fact that Irish (the traditional Gaelic) is an official language, but so few Irish students, at least in Dublin, can speak it. While walking along the Royal Canal I came across bronze shoes (below) commemorating the “National Famine Way.” This marks the 19th century families forced, starving, toward Dublin Harbour. Once there they shipped out on British “coffin ships” in hopes of a better life in Quebec and other destinations. Ireland and Quebec are bound together in many ways.

Many died en route or of sickness in quarantine (as at Grosse-Île, QC).

History is thick here. Last week on my way to the dentist I was surprised by another example. This is Croke Park behind me. Even though our apartment is a kilometre away, when 80 thousand fans are cheering a Gaelic games competition, you can hear it loud and clear from our living room.

Croke Park (Croker, to the locals) didn’t always look like a spaceship. On November 21st, 1920, the stadium was the scene of Bloody Sunday (Irish: Domhnach na Fola). In reaction that morning’s assassination of British intelligence operatives, British soldiers and auxiliaries opened fire indiscriminately on players and spectators at an afternoon Gaelic football match. Fourteen people were killed and at least 60 injured. As with settler-Indigenous history where I was born, imperialism is always violent. Bloody Sunday remains a crucial moment in Irish history.

These folks would hear the games even better

There are spots like this all over Dublin, Ireland, and Northern Ireland, places where the land is marked by tragedy, hate, and death. In 2020, a century after the horrific events, this little stone bridge beside Croke Park was renamed “Bloody Sunday Bridge.”

“dark pilgimages” (to sites of tragedy) intersect and overlap

The Royal Canal can be a bit rough here (another good reason for biking this section). But when I stopped and went up for a minute to pay my respects on the bridge, people were walking back and forth to their business at Croker. The Irish seem to be good at this kind of redemption. They don’t hide the past but build new and better on it just the same. During the pandemic Croke Park was turned into North Dublin’s vaccination site.

Where once lives were lost by hate, they are being saved by how the Irish care for themselves and their neighbours, even those from elsewhere.

Like me.