John Vieraitis is facing off against Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation (MTO) regarding a culvert under Highway 3 which drains water onto his 200-acre farm.
The farm, located a few kilometres west of Tillsonburg on the south side of Highway 3 on the east side of Carson Line, is in the Municipality of Bayham.
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Vieraitis says the property, purchased by his father in 1972, contains Indigenous artifacts – a lot of artifacts – and an Indigenous burial ground.
He is concerned that water flowing south through the culvert under Hwy 3 has been increasing over the years. His dispute is not with his neighbours or the municipality. He believes the MTO should do something to re-route the water – potentially buy using underground pipes – to the Otter Creek.
“This is all run-off because this is the lower spot. So I asked them (MTO) to fix it, about 2015 in the spring, when they were doing work on the road. There’s more water because there’s more houses being built, everything drains, I’m the lowest. It’s all draining this way from all directions. I asked them to address it – redirect the water or fix the situation.”
Vieraitis feels the water, which appears to be forming a marshy pond area on the north end of the property, is threatening a historical Indigenous village site.
In an effort to protect the site, Vieraitis built a berm running parallel with the highway that effectively blocked the water.
“That berm is protecting Indigenous artifacts and burial grounds on the property,” said Vieraitis, who says the MTO, acting on a court decision, has begun the process of removing the berm.
“My job … I was asked a few years back to help protect this (Indigenous site). So this is what I’ve done. I’ve done everything I can, now it’s gone beyond my capabilities.”
Now Vieraitis has asked for help, and on Saturday David Grey Eagle from Toronto visited the site and conducted a ceremony to help bring awareness to the situation.
“What we’re trying to do is bring them (MTO) to the table to negotiate,” said Vieraitis, who wants to step back a bit and let the Indigenous groups negotiate. “And they are saying there’s no negotiations.
David Grey Eagle, wearing a medallion presented to his Mohawk ancestor by James Munroe, the fifth president of the United States, spoke to a small group gathered at the north end of the property near the culvert Saturday afternoon.
“Today, this is really important. This (medallion) was given to my ancestor and my family in peace and friendship. Today, this is what these (four) flags are about. This about us renewing our relationships with government, police, community, bringing everybody together so we can have no more problems between us.
“I am the representative and the carrier of the peace and friendship medal of 1817. And this has been passed down to me to carry.”
Grey Eagle said an archaeologist who came on the site years ago took hundreds of artifacts.
“Those artifacts represent a story of a People. And we don’t want them disturbed. There are probably remains in through here (in the flooded area), and we don’t want it disturbed. We don’t want them to think they can just come in and flood this whole area. This is a historical place.
“There are so many burial grounds and village sites and artifacts everywhere – we want to make sure they’re protected. They want to flood out this whole area, remains and burials, and change the whole area. That’s not fair.”
Grey Eagle said their plan includes having an archaeology team brought in to survey the property.
“That’s the right thing to do.”