Vieux family descendant Randy Kritkausky’s mother told him about his Potawatomi ancestry as a young child; however, he developed a deep connection to it, primarily through nature, in his late 60s. Throughout the last four years, Kritkausky wrote Without Reservation: Awakening to Native American Spirituality and the Ways of our Ancestors. It chronicles his journey as he changed his way of thinking.
“Enriched is a word that doesn’t even begin to cover the magnitude of the shift,” Kritkausky said.
He and his wife moved deep into the woods of Vermont 20 years ago, living amongst owls, deer and beautiful trees. After what he calls his “awakening,” Kritkausky developed a deeper appreciation for Mother Earth while questioning if technology creates a roadblock.
“So much of modern life is mediated by technology,” he said. “The classic (image) is people on a tour in the forest, and they’re looking at the forest through their cameras, and rarely looking at the forest with their eyes and rarely listening and smelling and feeling.”
Kritkausky hopes his book encourages readers to strengthen their perceptions and accept a new worldview.
A new beginning
In 1989, Kritkausky and his wife founded ECOLOGIA, an international nonprofit designed to bring local and national voices together to create ecological plans with positive results for the earth. He spent his career as a scholar and nonprofit director writing in a dry and scientific manner.
“I feel I live in two worlds; I’m a rational skeptic, scientifically-trained, Western historian, and at the same time, I’m a Native American. And I can do both at the same time,” Kritkausky said.
He spent much of his life as an agnostic. In 2017, Kritkausky’s mother walked on after a stroke. Before her end of life, he began sensing something about her final journey in visitations from animals on his property, and he felt her presence while working in his garden in the months afterward.
“I began to wonder, ‘Where is this coming from?’ The obvious answer was it must be something from my family’s past. And when I began to explore in that direction, that’s when people around me began to confirm that what I was experiencing was not delusions, hallucinations, dreams in the middle of the night. It was actually a very common experience for Native American people,” Kritkausky said.
He calls it “her last gift” to their family that led him to accept a spirituality he initially resisted. In his book, Kritkausky discusses the need for people to overcome skepticism of spiritual connections with the earth and ancestors and to release themselves from the notion that scientific and mathematical explanations developed by humans hold more value.
“Things are no longer things,” he said. “That’s quite a transformation for someone who’s worked in the field of environmental science and policymaking around the globe for 30 years. Because I’ve always looked at the realm of nature as something that can be studied, objectified and measure and quantified and manipulated.”
Kritkausky now relies on Native American spirituality much more in his everyday life and wishes he had developed it earlier.
“I can’t go out in the garden and touch a plant or pick a vegetable from our huge vegetable garden we have this year without being thankful and expressing gratitude to Mother Earth,” he said. “It would have made life so, so much richer.”
He wrote late at night, diving into his thoughts when inspiration struck. Kritkausky started the book almost as a journal, but early on, it developed into something more.
“I would awaken in the middle of the night, almost always at the same time, 2 o’clock in the morning — usually when owl (koo koo o koo) is calling. And the words would just start appearing in my brain, and it was as if I heard them. And then I would be afraid to go back to sleep for fear that it would be like not hitting the save button on your computer,” Kritkausky said.
He often composed approximately three to six pages in an evening. During a recent Hownikan interview, he described it as “effortless.” Kritkausky also utilized his skills as an academic and delved into his subject, including significant historical research. He talked to many elders and other Native Americans, often from different tribes, about their experiences with what he calls “inexplicable natural phenomenon.” Kritkausky found many of them experienced similar interactions with nature.
“I constantly encounter people, other off-reservation Native Americans, who literally break down in tears and say, ‘I just keep having these experiences, and there’s no one to talk to.’ And very often, they aren’t even registered because their families hid their Native American identity. So, they can’t even prove they’re Native American. … They feel stranded,” he said.
Kritkausky feels his ancestors helped him pen Without Reservation, and he hopes to help others explore this realm of existence for themselves after reading it.
“I want to educate people to embrace nature, not as objects, not as things to be studied and manipulated, but to be respected as living kin,” he said. “And I think that’s the only way all of us … are going to save the planet is to look at Mother Earth literally as our mother and feel compelled to protect her.”
Those types of connections helped Kritkausky publish the book as well. During berry harvesting season, he visits a neighbor’s farm who works for Inner Traditions. The publishing company focuses on spirituality, holistic health and more, and now represents Kritkausky.
Without Reservation: Awakening to Native American Spirituality and the Ways of our Ancestors is available Sept. 1, 2020, on Amazon and Innertraditions.com at cpn.news/withoutres. A virtual author meeting and book discussion is scheduled on Zoom for Saturday, Sept. 26 at 11 a.m. CST. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit randykritkausky.com for more information.