Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God
by Kaitlin B. Curtice (Reviewed by Reviewed by Donna Erickson Couch)
Kaitlin Curtice, the author of Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God, is a young woman who describes herself as one-half Native American and one-half European descent. Her father is Potawatomi, a tribe indigenous to Oklahoma and Michigan. Throughout her early life, having been raised by her mother since her parents divorced, she identified more with her Caucasian ancestors. She was brought up and was active in the Evangelical Christian tradition of her mother’s family. Once a “true believer,” even a young worship leader, she embraced her Christian faith as central to her daily life. Later, as she awakened to young adulthood, a shift happened in her search for identity. Through a painful discovery of belonging, Curtice was inspired to find God in the liminal space between her long-accepted truths about Christianity and the evolution of a new consciousness in the beauty and goodness of Native spirituality. The struggle is well documented in this book, the fruit of allowing her Native American roots to grow.
Using strong language and vivid poetry, Curtice challenges every white reader to consider the effects of assimilation and colonization as a brutal erasure of identity and belonging. Her narrative bristles with the agony and rage against what has been normative in the United States for too long. I thought long and hard about what I, as an elder, a white woman, and a spiritual director, might say to someone like Curtice. At times her words are incisive and other times opaque. Her voice is simultaneously strident and graceful, both grieving what she has lost and celebrating what she has gained. Her story needs to be heard with a vast spaciousness and a deep listening, using silence as the best way of compassion and understanding. A careful notice of any gut-wrenching reactions to her challenges are also insightful glimpses into complicity and blind spots.
Curtice’s story is not my story and yet, as a U.S. citizen, I must own my ancestry. White people did try to erase and demonize Native Americans. No getting around that. As in the Garden of Eden, we inherited the sin in a collective, unconscious way. I abhor the brutality and injustices that robbed the indigenous people of their land and culture and must strive to reverse the ugliness of the past by a daily examen and reeducating myself and others about embedded prejudice. This book will forever remind me.
Donna Erickson Couch, MA, is the director of faith formation at Saint Edward the Confessor Catholic Church in Dana Point, California, USA. A spiritual director, she also has many years of experience as a retreat guide, master catechist, and college professor. She is the author of Together but Alone: When God Means Something Different to Your Spouse. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.