Caledonia tensions heat up

'Riled up' young natives occupy site after builder hurt in confrontation

Dana Brown
Paul Morse and Daniel Nolan
The Hamilton Spectator
CALEDONIA (Sep 14, 2007)

About 15 young natives occupied a piece of a housing site where a homebuilder was seriously injured during a confrontation with natives yesterday afternoon.

The natives moved on to a hill on the Stirling South development at about 6:30 p.m. last night, a few hours after a developer says he reached a deal with native lawyer Aaron Detlor where his workmen and natives would vacate the property until further developments on the weekend.

"They are refusing to leave, or I would say reluctant to leave," OPP Staff Sergeant Phil Carter said. Elders from the Six Nations Confederacy were attempting to get the young people to leave the property "for their own safety," but were at a stalemate by 10 p.m.

Earlier in the day, Sam Gualtieri, 52, was found unconscious on the floor of the home he is building for a daughter. He was taken to hospital where he is in serious condition.

Lesley Green, a member of a Six Nations church, arrived at the scene and took the young people food. "They're kind of riled up right now," Green told reporters shortly after her visit. "They believe in what they're doing and they're hurting."

About 50 townsfolk had gathered near the site of the occupation shortly after 7 p.m., including some concerned Haldimand County officials. OPP kept a close eye on the crowd, at one point forming a line of half a dozen officers in front of it, but by 10 p.m. the crowd had dwindled to 20 or so.

There were some violent showdowns between townsfolk and natives last year at the height of the furor over the native occupation of another housing project.

The new dispute is one of many in the last month and comes after the traditional government announced it had created a special agency to vet and approve developments along the Grand River. The natives were given the land in 1784 by the British Crown, but Ottawa says the vast majority was surrendered or sold by 1850. The natives claim the land was never surrendered by Six Nations.

Dave Van Elslander, a developer of the Stirling South development, spent the day yesterday negotiating with Six Nations natives after they occupied and shut down the site yesterday morning.

The site had been briefly occupied two weeks ago.

Van Elslander said he and Detlor agreed to have everyone off the property for the weekend and talk again Sunday. He said Detlor is planning to consult with Confederacy chiefs about letting the development proceed. There have been reports the natives have asked for fees to permit developments to proceed, but Van Elslander said he has not promised them any money.

The occupation was about to end peacefully around 4 p.m. when a sub-developer who is building a home for his daughter and her fiance, entered his partially built house and clashed with several native youths.

Gualtieri, 52, of Caledonia, was found unconscious on the floor and rushed to West Haldimand General Hospital in Hagersville. Gualtieri's brother, Joe, said last night his brother was in serious condition with a broken nose and bruised skull. Carter said the victim was to be transferred to a hospital in Toronto because Hamilton hospitals were unable to take him.

"He's barely conscious," said Joe Gualtieri. "He can't communicate right now."

Joe said Gualtieri's wife, Sandy, and his three daughters were at his bedside and described his brother's face as "all smashed in and cut and bleeding."

Co-workers said the builder was trying to chase the youths off when they hit him in the head with a piece of wood. But natives said the youths saw the builder enter the home and they went to investigate. He attacked them and they defended themselves, they said moments after the confrontation.

Joe said his nephews were at the scene when the altercation took place. They told him his brother went to the site, where he is building two houses for his daughters, alone in the morning and found natives trying to plant a flag on the roof of one of his houses.

Sam took the flag off the roof, the police calmed the situation and that was the end of it until he returned to the site later in the day.

When Gualtieri came back, this time with a crew, to check on the house, he entered from the back because the road was blocked off and saw three natives upstairs in a house he was building.

According to Joe, Gualtieri asked the natives to leave. That's when the clash took place.

Caledonia councillor Craig Grice has called provincial officials for help in this latest occupation, although he's not optimistic anything will be done.

A provincial official this week said developers have to reach their own solutions with natives who stop or occupy their projects.

OPP spokesperson Constable Paula Wright said the assault is an isolated criminal incident but the police encourage all citizens to remain calm and allow them to find those responsible.

Gualtieri is the sole income earner of his family, and has been in the construction business for about 30 years and developing for a couple of decades, his brother said.

The occupation started around 7:30 a.m. yesterday when several dozen natives demanded workers put down their tools and leave.

The Six Nations traditional government says it has created a Confederacy Council Haudenosaunee Development Institute -- its own municipal planning department -- to deal with development on the land it claims along the Grand River.

Yesterday, natives said they occupied the Stirling South site because developers had not followed up on a promise to learn more about their new development protocols. Detlor, a spokesperson for the new native planning agency, arrived to negotiate.

Joe Gualtieri said the province needs to step up its approach to dealing with the contentious situations.

"Does somebody have to die before he (Premier Dalton McGuinty) makes a comment and deals with the issue seriously?" he asked.