AMERICAN INDIAN LAW ALLIANCE
An NGO in consultative status with the United Nations Economic & Social Council (ECOSOC).
History of the American Indian Law Alliance
The American Indian Law Alliance (AILA) was founded in 1989; it is an Indigenous, non-profit, non-partisan organization that works with Indigenous nations, communities and organizations in our struggle for sovereignty, human rights and social justice for our peoples. AILA was founded by Tonya Gonnella Frichner, Esq. (Onondaga, Snipe Clan), 1947-2015. We support our Elders and leaders and are accountable to the communities we serve. We are directly accountable to the Onondaga Nation Council of Chiefs, who are traditional wisdom keepers and the governing body of the Onondaga Nation. (The territory of the Onondaga Nation currently recognized by the U.S. government sits just south of Syracuse, NY but our traditional territory stretches through much of what is central New York.)
The Onondaga Nation, our leaders and our people, continue to uphold our traditional mandate to be stewards of the earth. Our responsibility is to preserve the land, water and all animals and plants for the seventh generation in the future. In our worldview, culture, lifeways and actions, there is no separation between us and our Mother Earth. We recognize Earth as our first Mother and we refer to her as a ‘relative, not a resource.’ To ignore our responsibility as a caretaker for Mother Earth would be to negate our primary responsibility in life. During all of our work at AILA, we center the importance of our traditional cultural values which prominently revolve around the protection of our shared Mother Earth. Additionally, we focus on promoting the rights of Indigenous women and children and preserving Indigenous traditions for our descendants.
On the grassroots levels, we support community-organizing efforts and have engaged in a wide variety of activities. We contributed to the successful movement to ban fracking in New York State. In 2010 the founder of our organization, Tonya Gonnella Frichner, Esq. (Onondaga Nation) was featured in a documentary called “The Unfractured Future” which was used as an organizing tool throughout New York State and beyond.
AILA brought the threat posed by fracking to the international level at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. We were able to add this international level of pressure by exposing the threat posed by fracking on the world stage, in front of the community of member nations of the UN.
In 2013, the American Indian Law Alliance organized the closing events of the historic Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign. The Campaign marked the 400th anniversary of the Two Row Wampum Treaty between the Haudenosaunee and Europeans. The anniversary of the Two Row Wampum Treaty was used as an opportunity to build more support for the movement to ban fracking. The anti-fracking movement was in part initiated by the Haudenosaunee through a statement put out by the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force in 2009. Here is a link to a 2013 article from The Atlantic discussing more about the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign .
Since the ban, AILA has been sharing the process which led to our success with others who are also fighting fracking. During the summer of 2015, we shared our lessons with leaders from across Indian Country about successfully fighting for a ban on fracking in the political borders of New York State. The panel was entitled “Banning Fracking in Haudenosaunee Territories” and Betty Lyons, AILA’s President & Executive Director was one of the featured speakers.
Most recently, AILA has been again organizing for a full cleanup of our sacred Onondaga Lake. We recently took the lead in organizing a protest at the Lake featuring youth from the Onondaga Nation. Here is an article about the protest, quoting AILA’s President . The protest garnered significant media attention and ensured there was a message that the fight for a full cleanup of Onondaga Lake is ongoing
On an international level, the American Indian Law Alliance organizes and advocates with Indigenous Peoples from around the world. We are one of a small number of Indigenous NGOs with special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Through this status, we assist Indigenous leaders, elders and youth in communicating their perspectives and issues from the community level into international forums.
AILA has been active in dozens of international forums addressing the rights of Indigenous Peoples and the rights of Mother Earth, including the 2008 Commission on Sustainable Development, the 2002 Earth Summit Rio+10 conference and preparatory meetings, the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity and preparatory meetings, and the 1992 Earth Summit and preparatory meetings. In 2014, AILA’s President was invited to be the sole speaker representing civil society at the “4th Interactive Dialogue of the United Nations General Assembly on Harmony with Nature.” This was a high level meeting the UN General Assembly, and was attended by heads of state and other world leaders.
What Have we Accomplished
Since our founding in 1989, the American Indian Law Alliance has been an active participant and legal and diplomatic counsel to Indigenous delegations in virtually all United Nations international forums affecting Indigenous peoples. AILA acted as a delegate for and was legal counsel to Indigenous Nations at the UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights/Working Group on Indigenous Populations in Geneva, Switzerland.
At the United Nations, AILA was a critical leader in the drafting, negotiation and passage of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), (A/61/L.67) adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2007. Article 43 of the UNDRIP states, “The rights recognized herein constitute the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world.” The UNDRIP is also “guided by the purposes and principles” of the work of the United Nations. The global significance of this document cannot be overstated. The UNDRIP is the first international legal mechanism on the rights of Indigenous Peoples to have wide support amongst member states of the UN. Furthermore, this was the longest ever debated human rights mechanism; it was debated for over twenty years.
AILA was central to the establishment of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, which is the primary forum for Indigenous Peoples from around the world to speak at the United Nations. The annual session is attended by approximately 2,000 Indigenous Peoples from around the world, making it one of the most highly attended meetings at the UN. This forum allows Indigenous Peoples to raise issues concerning the environmental contamination of their lands, violations of their human rights, and to celebrate the continued practice of their sovereignty and self-determination.
How we Achieve our Goals
The American Indian Law Alliance achieves these goals by linking grassroots organizing to high levels meetings at the United Nations. It is this unique ability to employ a wide variety of tactics, from grassroots activism to addressing the UN General Assembly, that make AILA truly unique. Through it all, we remain accountable to our communities and to the Onondaga Nation Council of Chiefs. We consistently honor our worldview by remaining committed to our original instructions to be a caretaker for Mother Earth.
During the ultimately successful fight to ban fracking in the political borders of New York State, AILA engaged the battle on different levels. AILA staff helped to organize people to attend anti-fracking rallies in Albany, NY. Meanwhile, AILA brought the message to ban fracking to the international level at the UN. Our ability to talk in the ‘halls of power’ while always staying accountable to Indigenous Nations and communities makes us a unique organization.
At International meetings, we present statements that and reviewed by UN member-states and international human rights experts. Our recommendations are frequently included in the published final report of these conferences. Our former president served as the North American Region Representative to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. She was tasked with representing all Indigenous Peoples of Great Turtle Island (U.S. and Canada).
Using our special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), we work with Indigenous leaders, elders and youth in communicating their perspectives and issues from the community level into international forums. In the past, we worked directly with local the New York City Native American community through the Legal Services Project, which provided free legal aid to Native Peoples in NYC. According to the 2010 census data, there are over 110,000 Native Peoples living in NYC.