Photo courtesy of Brandon Garlow and Fiona Byrne Ryan
The Center for Native American Studies has organized a number of events and presentations celebrating Native American Heritage Month throughout November. Their kickoff presentation was scheduled for Monday, Nov. 1, where students, faculty and community members were welcomed to gather at the Peter White Library for a presentation of “World view through art expression” by Center for Native American Studies director Amber Morseau.
However, a unique opportunity presented itself to Morseau. Rather than letting it pass her by, she decided her discussion of art could wait.
Enter Brandon Garlow and Fiona Byrne Ryan, a married couple who were located in Detroit with their two-year-old son and family dog. The couple ran their own real estate business together in the city for five years, helping the vulnerable population of senior homeowners in their area.
Despite this, Garlow and Byrne Ryan could not help but feel as if they were being complacent, finding themselves to be unsatisfied with many aspects of the day-to-day lifestyle that they were living.
“About a year ago, there was a time when we looked at our life and we asked ‘Is this our life? Are we living the life that we chose, or are we just living the life that had been set out for us?’” Byrne Ryan said. This question consumed the minds of the two, so much so that they craved some sort of change.
“It has been about a month since we sold our house, and we now are nomads living in a tent here in Marquette, [which] is currently our home,” Byrne Ryan stated during her opening at their keynote address Monday night.
The couple has set out on a journey to discover what it truly means to be a human being living on mother Earth. The family is welcoming the challenges that accompany starting a new chapter of life while being completely enveloped by the natural elements. In fact, they are actively seeking out the unknown, hoping to revitalize their spirits and appreciation of life as they continue to adventure around Turtle Island (North America).
Garlow and Byrne Ryan are calling their expedition “Running Into a New Earth,” a soul-driven adventure through an extended series of physical and mental challenges. The family is currently living in a tent while running through the woods along the North Country Trail, starting in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan and gradually working their way to Northern Minnesota. Garlow and Byrne Ryan want to awaken their hearts and minds to what it means to be human, while simultaneously breaking down social structures that have previously left them dissatisfied.
“We find comfort in knowing that if we do this, we get that. That’s kinda just how we live our lives. If we do all these things, we are going to get the life that we always dreamed of,” Garlow said. “But the issue we find with that is we were doing things that weren’t aligned with us and didn’t fulfill our soul.”
In what the couple referred to as an “extractive state,” or the human condition that currently dominates society, our everyday life depends on consumerism, revolving around our “need” for more tangible resources.
“We have discovered that the discomfort in stepping out of these societal norms [has helped us] decondition ourselves and decolonize ourselves the further we go into that discomfort … that’s why we want to do what we are doing,” Byrne Ryan said.
While the couple made the decision to leave their comfortable life for personal reasons, a greater force and indigenous movement on the sacred lands of northern Minnesota had encouraged them to trek north as well.
“We received a sign to go and join the water protectors up in northern Minnesota,” Byrne Ryan said. “It was such a powerful message that we received … that we decided there and then that we are going to follow that sign and we are going to leave everything that we know, everything that we thought we knew about life behind, get into our car … and set forth on a journey of meaning and purpose.”
According to the Minnesota government website, “The Line 3 Pipeline Replacement Project is described as an integrity and maintenance driven project that would involve the construction of 330 miles of new 36-inch diameter pipeline to replace 282 miles of the existing 34-inch Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota … capable of delivering all grades of crude oil.”
The “Stop Line 3 Resistance” is an ongoing protest against Line 3, which poses a threat to the natural resources in the area it surrounds, specifically that of the waters. On their website, Garlow and Byrne Ryan include information about how the building of Line 3 also violates government treaties with the Anishinaabe peoples on the White Earth Nation. This illegal pipeline threatens the lives and natural habitats of the White Earth Nation, especially that of manoomin, a wild rice that is the most sacred food of the Anishinaabe peoples. If an oil spill were to occur, it would damage and permanently alter the Anishinaabe way of life.
Besides joining the Stop Line 3 Resistance, a large portion of Garlow and Byrne Ryan’s “Running Into a New Earth” takes on a different type of peaceful protest. The couple plans to run 227 combined miles, representative of the 227 sacred lakes and rivers that Line 3 crosses over.
“Most often times we will run the same day,” Garlow said. “Other times I’ll run a day or she’ll run a day.”
This time spent apart while independently running the trails gives the two a chance to personally recollect themselves.
“When we’re separated, we are having that quality time in nature,” Byrne Ryan said. “It is just really interesting to come back and see what each other got from being out there in that time alone.”
When Morseau heard of Garlow and Byrne Ryan’s journey, the decision to have them replace her presentation on Native art came without hesitation.”
“The main reason why I gave up this spot was because of [Garlow and Byrne Ryan’s] ability to let go of all of their possessions and just carry what they need in a car. Being able to pack up a two-year-old and dog, and just allowing themselves to exist in nature. I found it to be very motivational and inspirational,” Morseau said.
Along with finding the story personally motivating, Morseau found that Garlow and Byrne Ryan’s message is an important one for college students to hear.
“Ultimately, I thought back to my students. College is such an anxiety evoking experience. It’s one identity crisis after another really,” Morseau said. “Students go in thinking ‘this is what society needs me to do, or expects me to do.’ I feel that students struggle between doing what they feel that they have to do [versus] what they know they should do.”
The family, just completed “Leg 1” of their journey, are just now setting out on “Leg 2.” In doing so, they plan to continue their personal pursuit in discovering a life full of purpose and meaning, while taking a stand against the societal structures that are currently harming mother Earth’s natural beauty and the next seven generations who must live with the consequences
The couple is raising money via GoFundMe as another way to support their cause, all proceeds being donated to two separate movements: 70% of proceeds going towards the “Stop Line 3 Resistance” and 30% being donated to the Mohawk Immersion School.
“We don’t know where this journey is leading us, but we know we have been called to do it,” Garlow said. “We are going to continue to follow our hearts.”