Lengthy process to name new Manitoba treaty commissioner draws to close

The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG _ A lawyer with extensive experience in Indigenous self-government negotiations has been named by the federal government as the new treaty commissioner for Manitoba.

Loretta Ross, who comes from Manitoba’s Hollow Water First Nation, was chosen after a lengthy, non-partisan vetting process that began last May.

She will be responsible for helping improve treaty relationships during her one-year term.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs recommended the Queen’s University law school graduate to the federal government last fall, at which point the job had been vacant for six months.

Ottawa and the AMC created the role in 2005 _ a joint attempt to set up a neutral office that would better relationships governed by treaties that date back centuries.

Ross will take office next Monday.

“It’s a pretty big discussion,” Ross said Wednesday. “It’s taking a look at the treaties and saying between governments, between nations, what does that relationship look like now, and how do we go forward?”

Ross spent a year working in Toronto before coming home to Manitoba, where she did a nine-month stint doing research work for the Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission.

From there, her legal practice focused primarily on child and family service law. In 1995, she joined AMC, where she spent a decade mired in Indigenous self-government negotiations which invariably entwined with treaties.

After leaving AMC, she served for a while as lawyer for Fox Cree Nation and later served as legal counsel for Hollow Water.

The Liberal government let former treaty commissioner James Wilson’s appointment _ made by the former Conservative government and reappointed in 2014 without AMC’s approval _ lapse in 2016.

Ross’s appointment was one of many slowed by new federal processes to make sure such moves were non-partisan.

AMC Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said the organization is “happy” with Ross’s selection.

“We think she’ll be able to handle the difficult questions,” he said, particularly legal ones. Nepinak’s hope is that Ross will be able to make the treaty commissioner’s role a little more substantial.

The office of the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada said in a statement that the government is looking forward to working with Ross “as we rebuild Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples based on respect, recognition of right and co-operation.”

Ross said discussions between all levels of governments and between nations are going to be key to her appointment.

“Each of the parties needs to have a look at the politics, have a look at the legal aspects of treaties and what they mean,” she said. “Maybe we could arrive at a point where we can advance the treaty relationship itself.”

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