Without Reservation: Awakening to Native American Spirituality and the Ways of Our Ancestors, by Randy Kritkausky
Bear & Company, 978-1591433842, 288 pages, September 2020
“While most of our journeys take us away from our immediate daily setting, the journey described in this book has not been a journey away from home. It is a journey, yet incomplete, homeward…”1
Without Reservation: Awakening to Native American Spirituality and the Ways of Our Ancestors by Randy Kritkausky is a powerful book, relating the author’s journey of self-identification and awakening the connections to what his ancestry holds as wisdom and an authentic sense of personal and collective spirituality. The overarching message of the book is one of a gentle encouragement by the author to explore your own uniqueness, your own histories, your own lineage and by so doing becoming more wholly who you are.
I will share a quote from “Chapter 17: Microbes and Black Swans,” which speaks eloquently to Kritkausky’s intent for himself and the world at large. This chapter relates the author’s continued experiences as COVID-19 spread throughout the world and the arising of his wish for society’s healing anchored from a Native American perspective:
Native Americans know how to cope with a more powerful adversary while maintaining our dignity. We make necessary accommodations as best we can. . . Crisis can be a time to dig into our historical narratives and to gather their wisdom. The isolation and time-outs imposed on us in the form of quarantines may be a hidden gift, a pause button encouraging reflection. Imagine our families and communities gathered in small groups around a fire, exchanging stories of ancestral wisdom and reimagining our future. Imagine the cultural enrichment that might come if this became routine…2
Without Reservation is separated into seventeen chapters and ends with a powerful writing of the “Conclusion: Untangling Threads of Historical Narrative”, which speaks to what the author’s journey has truly revealed for him…
What I did not anticipate is that in, around, and through my personal reflections, another more complex image would emerge and come into focus-that of “Indianness” writ large. I now see unfolding before me something like a five-dimensional hologram of my collective tribal history through time, and even beyond that, an emerging image of our continent’s human history…3
This historical narrative is not one that is found in academic teachings, but rather one that can only be derived by the understanding and wisdom gained in making the time and taking the effort to step fully into the wisdom of the ancestors and nature and seeing through their eyes the true story.
I appreciated that the author included a Glossary of Indian Words, chapter Notes and a robust and very thorough Bibliography. These were excellent tools that serve to deepen the reader’s understanding of the importance and profound impact this journey “homeward” had for Kritkausky, while giving insight into the wealth of wisdom held by the Native peoples.
One of the things that sets this book apart from many other books about Native American Spirituality or Native biographies is that Kritkausky is one of Native American descent who did not grow up on a Native American reservation, and so he did not have the first hand cultural and ancestral experiences that arise from those daily interactions within community and family. Additionally, he describes himself as frequently standing…
“… before a mirror. . . The face that stares back at me always has hazel eyes, light brown hair, light skin and northern European bone structure. I am continually reminded that I look more like my adopted family’s Lithuanian ancestors than my biological family’s Potawatomi ancestors.”4
And it was this self-reflection that ignited the flame within him to seek “home”. He goes on to remind the reader that…
“Who we are and who we think we are is not merely a social construct rooted in the fleeting here and now. Who we are and who we think we are is rooted in historical connections with those who have walked on but continue to be with us. Our identity is rooted in our relationships with the land and with a sentient natural world that shares an active understanding with us. When we wander too far from our roots, our ancestors and kin in the natural world call us home, sometimes with gentle whispers and sometimes with loud voices sounding alarms…5
Each chapter gives a thoughtful amount of Kritkausky’s personal background and how he was raised apart from the Native traditions of the Potawatomi tribe, despite the Native heritage on his mother’s side. The reader is privy to the spiritual uncertainty that arose when his mother remarried a man of Lithuanian descent, who became his adopted father, and life in a geographical location lacking in ethnic diversity or non-traditional options to pursue spirituality.
“Chapter 2: The Awakening” and “Chapter 3: Before the Awakening” recount the synchronistic events and imminent death of his mother, that brought Kritkausky into the wisdom of his Native extended family and their spiritual practices through a tradition of understanding of and collaboration with the natural world. It is often said of important matters that when the student is ready, the teacher will come. For Kritkausky, the teachers took on the forms of ancestral spirits, animal spirits, aunts, uncles, and kin.
“Chapter 4: Pathways to Knowing” is my favorite chapter of Without Reservation. This chapter provides the reader with tools for consideration as the process of awakening to the Native ways of spirituality begins. Kritkausky outlines them in this way:
• Visitations and Connections: “The most astounding and sometimes the most perplexing encounters involve wonderful, unintended and typically unexpected visitations from ancestral spirits…. direct connections with the natural world, (are) moments when the consciousness of other living beings, flora and fauna, becomes accessible…”6
• Observation: “… comes through intended highly conscious, close observation of the world of nature and the lessons that flora and fauna bring, if we take the time to see and listen…”7
• Reflection: “This mode of coming to know and understanding requires time and critical self-examination, even an element of skepticism. It often requires asking ourselves hard questions…”8
The questions that are posited are found in many other spiritual journeys, all with the intention of verifying what has been intuited, maintaining a level of integrity around the intention and deepening the resonance of integration of what information is received.
The last pathway, for me, was the most profound and is that of storytelling, described as…
“… profoundly social rather than introspective and private. By sharing or publishing knowledge and wisdom we have been given, we become teachers and conduits of culture…Our friends, families and communities challenge and confirm us, For Native Americans with millennia-old oral traditions, storytelling comes naturally. For others, this is nearly a lost art form…”9
I love this particular intention and pathway. You can feel the power and deep connectedness arising just in reading the author’s words of description. The reader is reminded that these paths intersect, informing one another and creating the point of resonance that will call to the wisdom of the ancestors, the support of the natural world, and the strength of heritage to find a place of cultural home.
Without Reservation is a moving and intimate recounting of the author’s desire to know more about who he is in his “Indianness.” This book is dynamic with emotion, historical truths, technique, and masterful weaving of a personal account of seeking family. At the level of nuance, this title evokes in the reader a yearning for a simpler, yet deeply connected relationship with the knowingness of who you are in heritage, in spirit and in the network of ancestry.
For me, personally, it struck an emotional chord. As Kritkausky relates in the beginning of the book, many Americans know of their Native American lineage, but lack the proof required for recognition by the US government and/or the various Tribal Nations themselves. They remain disenfranchised from their roots and find it easier to remain entrenched in the expectations of the society and cultural experiences they were raised in; taking on an identity that is incomplete and unfulfilling. What knowledge they may have of this other heritage is often fleeting or merely a glimpse of some memento or artifact at best, or a random comment made in passing that may indicate that they are something more.
In my case, it was a picture of my great-great grandmother and the telling of a story by my grandmother about her grandmother. The picture portrayed a beautiful Native woman with braids and clothing, presumably Cherokee. My grandmother did not know much other than what she was briefly told by her mother and when my grandmother died, the picture disappeared.
Without Reservation awakened within me the desire to know more about that neglected aspect of myself. And, I would broadly say that the approach and fervent desire that Kritkausky shared could be applied to anyone’s lineage-European, Asian, African, etc. All have historical narratives and ancestral stories to tell. And, as was true for Kritkausky, in connecting with the wisdom of your history, we can better be suited towards living in harmony and respect for one another and ultimately deepen the connections to nature that all indigenous peoples revere.
Robin Fennelly is an Elder within the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel Tradition [www.sacredwheel.org]. She is a dancer, teacher, astrologer, author, ritualist and seeker of all things of a spiritual nature. Her writings and classes incorporate a deep understanding of Eastern practice and Western Hermetics and bring a unique perspective towards integration and synthesis of the Divine and Mundane natures of our being. She is a mother of five and lives in Eastern PA with her husband of 45+ years.