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The Return of the Summit of Mount Roineabhal

This is a photo essay summarising the remarkable events leading to the return of the summit rock of Mount Roineabhal at Lingerabay, Rodel, on the Isle of Harris in Scotland's Outer Hebrides. The pictures here speak to the symbolic taking of the mountain top into sanctuary by the Mi'Kmaq First Nation people, the saving of the Scottish mountain, my journey to Nova Scotia to retrieve the summit rock, reciprocally assisting a superquarry-threatened community there, visiting some inspirational activists in the USA, and finally returning to Scotland to ascend the mountain for the summit rock's repatriation.             

 

 

In 1991 Mount Roineabhal in the south Harris National Scenic Area came under threat of being turned into the biggest roadstone quarry in the world. An almighty battle ensued, during which time an indigenous elder in the community broke off the summit rock and asked me to present it to the then warrior chief of the Mi'Kmaq First Nation of Nova Scotia, Sulian Stone Eagle Herney. I had invited him to Scotland to testify in the 1994 government public inquiry into the superquarry. This picture of Mt. Roineabhal (shrouded by clouds) is taken from St Clement's Church, Rodel. St Clement is the patron saint of quarry workers because his martyrdom involved being a quarry slave in the Crimea. The picture of me with the summit rock of Roineabhal was taken in 2005 courtesy of  the Canadian film maker, Tim Wilson. A picture of Stone Eagle at Roineabhal can be viewed here.

 

I presented Stone Eagle with the elder's "gift" at the 5,000 year old Calanais (Callanish) standing stones, near to where I had grown up on the Isle of Lewis. As documented in chapters 21 & 22 of Soil and Soul, he said he could not accept it as a gift. But he could take the rock symbolically into sanctuary under the terms of the Mi'Kmaq Nation's 1752 Treaty with the British! In this, they had agreed to look after our emigrants when they were in need. Today, he said, it was our rocks that were under threat and the need was to take our mountain into symbolic sanctuary.

 

 

  The mountain top was formally brought into the territory of the Pictou Landing Mi'Kmaq with permission from the then Chief, Albert Denny. He gave permission to hold a ceremony at which tobacco was offered and the stone was passed over for keeping and being placed on public display at the Hector Heritage Quay. The ceremony was attended by Chief Denny and by elders from various areas including Eskasoni and Shubenacadie. Detailed press reports of this can be found in The Casket, Antigonish, 7 August 1996. The Hector Heritage Quay commemorates the ship Hector on which destitute Scottish emigrants, many forced off the land by the Highland Clearances, had sailed to Nova Scotia in 1773. Many of the buildings in Pictou town convey Scottish history, Scottish architecture, and even red standstone that was used in the old buildings came over from Scotland as ships' ballast. Our mountain top would be on friendly territory. The irony, of course, is that too often Scots settlers had pushed the Mi'Kmaq off their land. In the dynamic by which oppressed easily becomes the oppressor, we had often not adequately respected the hospitality of our trans-Atlantic host.

 

 The government public inquiry accepted that the superquarry would locally devastate the National Scenic Area but nevertheless believed that demand in the south of England justified it. However, the newly devolved Scottish parliament rejected this in 2000. Permission was declined. By this time the original company, Redland, had suffered a collapse in its share price caused in part by uncertainty over its "flagship" project on Harris. In consequence, they had been subject in 1997 to a predatory take-over by the French multinational, Lafarge. Lafarge's legal team were robustly fighting a protracted appeal process against the political rejection of their plans. But in 2002 I was contacted by a French futures thinker and head of training in Groupe Credit Mutuel (a mutual bank). He, Thierry Groussin (centre), came to Scotland with his son and I took them up the mountain. He was shocked by the prospect of such beauty as he could see being desecrated. He doubted whether Lafarge senior management were really aware of what their otherwise reputable company were proposing by virtue of having acquired Redland. After all, they are active in 75 countries, and devolve decision making to local management unless problems specifically come to their attention. He arranged for me to meet Lafarge senior management in Paris in October 2003.

 

 It transpired that WWF International were already banging on Lafarge's door, they being in a "sustainability partnership" with the company that was becoming embarrassing. Other NGOs in the LINK Quarry Group, especially Friends of the Earth Scotland, were adding to the pressure. The Lafarge team responded by asking me to organise meetings for them on Harris. They wanted to appraise the situation for themselves. Three of their vice-presidents came in January 2004 - Philippe Hardouin, Gaelle Monteiller and Michel Picard (pictured under Mt. Roineabhal). They returned again on 2nd April 2004 along with two of their English executives, and announced in a public meeting that they were withdrawing from the project. They left, making a € 50,000 goodwill gesture donation to the Leverburgh football field fund. Many factors had changed since the quarry scheme had been initiated by Redland. In particular, the damage to the community caused by protracted uncertainty was no longer compatible with Lafarge's corporate social ethics. I was subsequently invited to join their Sustainability Stakeholders' Panel and, after consultation with erstwhile quarry campaigning colleagues, I agreed to do so on an unpaid basis. After all, we all use quarry products and so arguably have a responsibility in supporting the industry in seeking more sustainable solutions and policy environments. 

 

By 2005 the mountain was safe, but the summit rock continued to rest on public display in Pictou at the Hector Heritage Quay. After consultation with the Mi'Kmaq and Ishbel Munro (who had also come from Nova Scotia and testified at the 1994 Public Inquiry), it was decided that I should retrieve it in person while on a lecture tour in North America. I had been invited by Jonathan and Diana Rose to speak on environmental leadership at the Garrison Institute in New York State, and this made the journey possible, together with generous grants from Cecilia Croal of the Russell Trust and the Pollard and Dickson Trust (for Quaker travelling in ministry) . Thank you, my sponsors!

 

  The Hector Heritage Quay is a moving testimony to the post-Culloden political oppression back home that contributed to early Scottish settlers coming to Nova Scotia. The Quay comprises a replica of the Hector and a remarkable interpretation centre. Several people work there, and the final stage of the official tour is a display case that contains the mountain top and a peat that was given to Stone Eagle by John Norman MacDonald of 16 Lingerabay on Harris. Beneath these is a wooden box containing a huge eagle carved in Scottish sandstone, the gift of Colin MacLeod of Glasgow's GalGael Trust. This picture shows my dear friend Ishbel Munro and her daughter, Tausha, with me viewing Colin's eagle stone.

 

Whereas some of the stories related to the superquarry have hit the headlines, there has been a massive amount of wonderful, effective and heartfelt input from a great diversity of unsung or little-sung heroes. Here is not the place to attempt the probably impossible task of naming them all - but I will give just one example because it surrounds the story of Colin's eagle. The stone eagle was originally carved at the Pollok Free State motorway protest, and one of the young men who enjoyed going there was Stevie Boyle (pictured left with the eagle), who otherwise lived in a nearby housing scheme. Stevie was a DJ, and it was thanks to his fundraising by putting on a special event that the money was raised for shipping the stone to Nova Scotia. On receiving it, Stone Eagle passed it over to the Mi'Kmaq Nation because he felt it was too much to accept as a personal gift. This is how it comes to be resting in the Hector Heritage Quay on loan from the Mi'Kmaq. Sulian wrote at the time, "The stone eagle is growing real fast. It is now so big that Colin and I are lost in its greatness. And I believe this is the way it should be. I see great good coming from it by way of helping our peoples heal from their first meeting." The cruel reality is that native peoples on both sides of the great Atlantic that have been suffering the trauma of indigenous cultures being forcibly stripped of their context of meaning in custom and the land. Stevie's life as a red-haired native Glasgow Rastafarian (Jah!) born in 1966 is typical of this. In 2003 he was found dead in his flat. Duriing that 18 month period the GalGael Trust lost 5 of its members, mostly well before their time. A website to Stevie's memory has been established by his friends at www.stevieboyle.com . I personally did not know Stevie, but the GalGael Trust (of which I am Treasurer) works to address the underlying causes of poverty and its many symptoms by assisting cultural reconnection through learning crafts and industries including boatbuilding, weaving, basketwork, metalwork, blacksmithing, stone-carving, wood-carving, leatherwork and silversmithing. A key part of this is learning to respect both our own and other indigenous cultures. It was Stevie's vision of what was important and his generosity that made it physically possible for Colin's stone eagle to fly over to North America. As a result of its cornerstone position in the Hector Heritage tour, it is indeed the case that great good and healing comes from it as one of the many spin-offs from the Mount Roineabhal superquarry saga.

 

Ishbel (right) had arranged for the summit rock to be given back to the Mi'Kmaq by the white folks of Pictou Town on June 4th 2005, and the Mi'Kmaq in turn would give it back to me. 
At this ceremony the "white" Scots-descended community were represented by Deputy-Mayor Ken Johnston, and the Mi'Kmaq First Nation from Pictou Landing Reservation were represented by Marsha Boyles. Two young men, Leo Marshall (left) and Levi Herney (centre), drummed and performed the Mi'Kmaq Honour Song. Outside, a piper played Scottish airs. Local TV and the local paper both gave good coverage - the front page story in the Evening News of 6 June, being: A mountain of thanks: Mi'Kmaq thanked for help in saving Scottish mountain.

 

  The Hector Quay people were a bit sad about losing their mountain top. It had come to be an important part of their story, recognising as it does the on-going nature of Mi'Kmaq-Scots relationship and the possibility of establishing common cause between diverse peoples. I therefore presented the Deputy Mayor with a replacement rock from Mount Roineabhal, taken for the purpose by John MacAulay, an indigenous tradition bearer, author, boatbuilder and worker with stone from Harris.

 

  During the ceremonial speeches, the summit rock of Roineabhal had been seated on a velvet-covered plinth (right). Here Deputy Mayor Ken Johnston formally returns it to Marsha Boyles as the Mi'Kmaq representative on behalf of Chief Anne of Pictou Landing. Chief Anne was able briefly to join us and to be formally thanked later on when evening fell.

 

 

  Various gifts were exchanged, Marsha here receiving a Celtic crest. Her little girl on the right had a particularly deep fascination with the rock. She would stare at it for ages and come absolutely alive. Her name, Kitpou, translates as "eagle," and in many ways, as I show in my book, the eagle has been the totem spirit of this whole campaign.  I gave the eagle girl a piece of the red Harris Tweed cloth that I had brought with me to wrap the replacement rock with. We would use it again to carry the summit rock home. She was thrilled.

 

 Marsha's husband, Lawrence Herney, is the elder or shaman who holds sweat lodges for the Pictou Landing community. He and Marsha had spent a day gathering special stones for a ceremonial sweat that would purify the summit rock, and ourselves, prior to it being handed over to me. He also gave me the rock that I'm holding from the Kluscap territory of Nova Scotia - a sacred area that Stone Eagle had successfully defended from being superquarried some years previously. He explained that one should feel a rock like a person, touching it gently and taking it into the heart where one talks with it. "The stone is heart," he insisted. I said I would take his rock (pictured) back to Scotland and place it on the summit of Mount Roineabhal. I also gave him a huge piece of sweetgrass that Colin MacLeod had collected from Scotland (pictured). This is used for smudging, and it was very greatly appreciated by him. To Marsha I gave a skirt length of beautiful green Harris Tweed. 

 

  The sweat lodge is a bender covered in old carpets into which red hot stones are introduced and sprinkled with water. We sat in a circle inside, men, women and children, and went through 4 rounds of sweating. It was intensely hot even by local standards! I could hardly bear it and at one point had to do all in my power to resist jumping up and bursting out the door. On each round Lawrence would ask for prayers - for the land, the children, the men, the women, the creatures, etc.. Between the hottest parts when lying out on the grass under the stars outside, I found myself entering a very clear and deep state of consciousness where it felt like I was able to enter and see right into the psyche of those I was holding in my mind at the time. I was able to see more clearly who they were, what my relationship is to them, and what their needs are. It gave me a deepened perspective on "prayer". The summit rock was passed from hand to hand during this praying. Various people spoke to the powerful "energy" that they said they felt from it. One native woman with a disabled little son said she had never before felt such a "comfortable" rock. At the end of the sweat, Lawrence quietly passed it to me and said that was it. The time of Mi'Kmaq sanctuary was over. For a short period I was again to be the mountain bearer. 

  Next, I was taken by the Canadian documentary film maker, Tim Wilson, on the long drive to Digby Neck. There I met Tony Kelly, Nora Peach and others who, two years previously, had driven down to New York State to hear me speak about the proposed St Lawrence Cement proposal where I was a guest of Friends of Hudson. The Digby Neck folks had asked me to come and speak in their community too, and I'd promised that I would if ever in the area. Their situation is that land on their peninsula has been bought up by a New Jersey (USA) owned company, Clayton Block, wanting to superquarry their place and ship the rock out to New York. Digby Neck relies on tourism and fishing, and there is virtually 100% local opposition to the quarry proposal - click here for Save Digby Neck. The next morning I was taken by local residents to the 9 acre site that the company have bulldozed and build a swimming-pool-sized "settling pool". It seemed quite clear that what they have done so far is tokenistic corporate posturing - trying to scare people into thinking that the superquarry is a fait accompli. No way is a swimming pool adequate as a settling pool for an operation intended to ship millions of tonnes of rock a year in ocean-going vessels! My opinion is that they're just trying to frighten folks into running and selling up their land, so giving up the fight. I had myself pictured trespassing on "their" land at the site. If they want to extradite me, I'll look forward to the fun in the courts! A 118 minute fundraising DVD of the talk (with short clips from the Hector Heritage Quay event) has been produced by Tim Wilson, Soil and Soul on Digby Neck.

 

  As I was shown round this very human-scale fishing/tourism community I was wearing normal clothes, and was planning to go dressed like that to the public meeting that I'd be speaking to that night. I'd been invited simply to tell the story of what happened on Harris and how we saw Redland off. But something was brewing that was going to push me into exceeding my remit!

 

  I was puzzled as I was shown around the bulldozed proposed and opposed quarry site . "What are all these white crosses?" I asked, seeing paint on many of the rocks. "Surveying marks?" No ... and to my astonishment, a remarkable story unfolded. The site that Clayton (or Bilcon) had bulldozed was, according to local people, a place where the graves of their early settler ancestors were buried. Some "unknown" local activist had been going round painting the white crosses as a protest about the fact that Clayton Block are grave desecrators! A nonviolent white folks' Oka?

 

  

  And guess what ... there wasn't just one set of paint brushes at Digby Neck. Somebody else has been going round painting the crosses back out again with rock-coloured grey paint. And then some of them had been repainted! Furthermore, and to crown it all, Clayton are not very happy about being called grave desecrators. Indeed, they don't want anybody to use that word, and it was telling that mention of all this was avoided by the local newspapers even though it formed the culmination of my public address. Why? Perhaps because the woman shown here is Evelyn, the wife of the local baptist minister, and Clayton have smacked a SLAP suit on her - a "strategic lawsuit against participation". They have taken legal against her, and will drag her up to court perhaps seeking damages, because she dared to say, in the local newspaper, that Clayton have "desecrated" the graves of the community's ancestors! Not only do Clayton not ask the community's permission; they also try to gag it. Sounds to me like they've scored a goal against themselves here!  

 

  And here you have it - the company claim that they surveyed the site and there were no graves. But the community maintain that they know their history better than a quarrying company parachuting in from the USA. Here's the names of 5 families whose ancestors the community maintain are buried in the area that has been bulldozed.... My response to this was thrilled outrage. I was thrilled at the thought that Clayton could have shot themselves in the foot so stupidly. It was just like some of the carry on with Redland - crazy things that happen and which emerge when you "watch all points of the come-to-pass." I asked my hosts why they had not made a massive song and dance about this. After all, "Is grave desecration not forbidden in Canadian law?" They said they had been "too polite." I went straight back to where I was staying and put on my kilt, including a buckskin shirt bearing the Mi'Kmaq Star that Stone Eagle had given me during his visit to Scotland in 1994. The blood was up, and the public meeting that evening became absolutely electric. There was a huge turnout for a tiny community - about 70 people - and they completely saw all the connections with Harris. People were exclaiming, "That's just like what's happening to us!" What should they do? "Wake up to globalization and be less polite," I suggested. Being less polite was what the local press ran with: "What stands to be lost here is the community itself. It risks death."

 

 

  I hardly ever have nightmares, but for 3 successive nights running while working on the Digby Neck case I woke up having powerful frightening dreams - about psychological dysfunctionality, military violence and personal exhaustion. Via Ishbel by email, I spoke with Lawrence and followed some advice he gave me. It was a short-lived issue, but what was going on? Basically, the whole superquarry saga has, for me, been an engagement with the violence of our times. We are destroying the earth and have colonised one another's cultures to do it. Native peoples' cultures are rife with alcoholism, violence, drug abuse and sexual abuse in consequence. At its deepest levels, Soil and Soul addresses these themes, and I see my work as being fundamentally about cultural healing - indeed, about "cultural psychotherapy." This was the underlying reason why I had wanted to connect Scots and Mi'Kmaq cultures in the public inquiry back in 1994. It was not just about the superquarry. It was about, as I put it to the bemusement of some of the local press at the time, "a transatlantic cultural psychotherapy involving native peoples on both sides." These dreams signified the degree to which some of this was getting to me. As Stone Eagle said when I briefly visited him in Sydney, Nova Scotia, "Violence drives you mad." At Digby Neck, I felt like my own mind was being touched by the violence I was engaging with. It was a most peculiar experience and it called for deep spiritual grounding. On leaving Digby Neck, I headed down to New York State to speak at the Garrison Institute and also, to stay with my old friend and supporter of my work, Jim Cashen, formerly a director of Friends of Hudson. Jim arranged for me to meet the Board of FoH. Having won their battle, they are no longer working to the theme "Stop the Plant," but rather, "Start the Plan." This new emphasis on community regeneration is, in part, inspired by some of the examples from Eigg and Harris. Jim also set up various meetings and talks, one of which was attended by Dr Alesia Maltz, who did so much as part of her research on Harris to raise local awareness of the threat of big developments in small communities. Jim (pictured left) and our friend Christopher Reed took me to spend a day with the theologian, Walter Wink (pictured right) and his wife, June. Wink's work provides a theological backbone to my own. It is the second time we've met, and I asked him this time what he thought of my dreams. He said he was unsurprised, having experienced the same himself, particularly when he visited Jerusalem. He said that's part and parcel of engaging with the proverbial "powers that Be." You have to wrestle with them!

 

  Thankfully the dream life soon resumed to normal, and on getting home to Verene we made plans to head up to Lewis and Harris to return the mountain top. In consultation with senior local figures, I had decided to keep this to a low key event with no press present. We felt that to do otherwise would risk rubbing salt in the wounds of those who had wanted the superquarry to proceed. Now was the time for healing in the community, not further division. There was a hiccup on the journey north, however. Verene and I arrived for the ferry in Ullapool and suddenly I remembered that I'd forgotten to bring the rock with me! The whole focus of our journey was languishing back in the house in Govan! I phoned the GalGael for help and it just so happened that one of my Centre for Human Ecology students, Chris Adams from Canada, was in the office at the time. He'd been volunteering there every Tuesday as part of our WWF International supported Community Regeneration Research Programme. So it was that the final mountain bearer back to the Isle of Harris, by way of a long slog by bus and boat, was a "white" Canadian citizen, completing a journey started by a First Nations Canadian citizen! This picture shows Chris (2nd from left) outside the GalGael premises in Ibrox, Glasgow, with Navigating the Future trainees George and Kevin (holding the rock), and Livvy (right). Thanks for saving the day, Chris!

 

  On Saturday 30th July a small procession of us headed up Mount Roineabhal in gloriously sunny weather.

 

  Our party comprised of John MacAulay (left) and his friend Jane Alison Hamilton and also Frank Stark the wildlife photographer (neither pictured), my wife Vérčne Nicolas (2nd from left), and my close school friends from the village of Leurbost, John "Rusty" MacDonald (3rd) and Alex George Morrison (right). Frank has written up a fine version of our day out in his nature column for one of the local newspapers, The Hebridean, "Natural Wonders - Golden Rod", 19 August 2005, p. 13.

 

  Pictured here with John is the summit rock of Roineabhal (centre) with Lawrence's rock from Kluscap territory (right) and a rock from Digby Neck (left). All of these were brought to be left at the mountain summit. Behind John you can see the mountains of north Harris merging into those of south Lewis, including the Eisken/Pairc area on the right where, as a youth, I used to work as a salmon ghillie and pony boy with the deer stalking.

 

  Finally, after a saga lasting 14 years, the summit rock is cemented back on to a suitable piece of bedrock. By a stroke of superb irony, the cement in question was manufactured by Lafarge! So there we have it - we are all complicit in consumption, and must all work on solutions such as developing sustainable building products that aim to use resources for human benefit, but minimise the extent to which we use those resources up. So it is that the superquarry saga - Scotland's longest running ever environmental campaign to date - is all over. The 2-billion year old mountain remains as a magnificent testimony to the majesty of creation. Go, please, and visit Harris and the Hebrides. Help generate employment there to make good any losses of not having the superquarry.  Buy its famous Harris Tweed and be moved by its spiritual traditions.

 

  As we walked away from the restored summit, 5 ravens gave us a  soaring, frolicking, dancing flypast. John then took us to a promontory over the precipitous corrie where, some years earlier, he had started a small cairn. As we added stones, Alex George suddenly let out a triumphant yell. It reminded me exactly of the shout he'd make when, as small boys, we'd go out fishing together and there was one spot at the dam where, after a flood, he'd always pull the biggest trout. But this time it was the perfect primary feather of a golden eagle that he'd pulled out from where it was caught amongst the rocks. Later, as we shared a sumptuous seafood meal with Frank and John on the fiddle, Jane on the flute, Alex and Rusty with the Gaelic vocals and me on the whistle, this was quietly given to John. "That is a very special feather," he said proudly. It was a feather, indeed, to fit the cap, and a fitting cap to a remarkable, wonderful, saga.

 

 "Summer brings low the little stream, the swift herd makes for the water, the long hair of the heather spreads out, the weak white cotton-grass flourishes.... The smooth sea flows, season when the ocean falls asleep; flowers cover the world.... The glory of great hills is unspoiled." - 9th Century Irish.

"I to the hills will lift mine eyes" ... Psalm 121.

 

 

 

 

 

www.AlastairMcIntosh

18 August 2005

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