Tonya Gonnella Frichner (Onondaga Nation) 1947-2015, Emeritus
Tonya Gonnella Frichner is a lawyer and activist whose academic and professional life has been devoted to the pursuit of human rights for Indigenous peoples. Ms. Frichner earned a Bachelor of Science Degree, and her Juris Doctor from the City of New York Law School at Queens College, where she is a member of the Board of Visitors. She also sits on the Board of Directors for the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team and serves as their legal advisor.
In 1987, shortly after graduation from law school, she served as a delegate for and was legal counsel to the Haudenosaunee at the UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights/Working Group on Indigenous Populations in Geneva, Switzerland. Since that time, Ms. Frichner has been an active participant and legal and diplomatic counsel to Indigenous delegations in virtually all United Nations international forums affecting Indigenous peoples.
She has worked most closely with elders from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Lakota Nation. Her work at the American Indian Law Alliance is known by others to be principled, effective and transparent, thus facilitating collaborations with other groups and nations based on shared traditional values. She has considerable experience in the process of the establishment of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and in the negotiation process concerning the draft UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Organization of American States Proposed American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
For her work with Indigenous peoples, Ms. Frichner has been honored with the Spirit Award for International Service from American Indian Community House, Inc, the Harriet Tubman Humanitarian Achievement Award, the Female Role Model of the Year of the Ms. Foundation for Women, the Thunderbird Indian of the Year Award, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor and the NY County Lawyers Association Award for Outstanding Public Service and the Alston Bannerman Award, among others. She sits on several boards, including the Roundtable of Institutions of People of Color and the Seventh Generation Fund for Indian Development.
Selected Conferences Ms. Frichner attended:
- 2008 Commission on Sustainable Development and preparatory meetings
- 2002 Beijing +5 – Women: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-First Century and preparatory meetings
- 2002 Earth Summit, Rio+10 and preparatory meetings
- 2002 Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat 1) and preparatory meetings
- 2001 World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance and preparatory meetings
- 1993 World Conference on Human Rights and preparatory meetings
- 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity and preparatory meetings
- 1992 Earth Summit, and preparatory meetings
- Other Achievements:
Vice-Chairperson of the Board of Directors for the Seventh Generation Fund for Indian Development
- Founding Board Member of The Ingrid Washinawatok El Issa Flying Eagle Woman Fund for Peace, Justice and Sovereignty
- Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Fund for the Four Directions
- Board of Directors: City University of New York School of Law; Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Non-proliferation; Native American Council of New York; National Ethnic Coalition for Organizations and others
- Member of the Boarding School Healing Project
“Tonya was a legal advisor, representative and advocate for the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations, Iroquois Confederacy) at the United Nations from 1985-2015. She chose to serve the Haudenosaunee and Indigenous Peoples in the arena of international law, focusing her skills and energy on the issues of: treaties; land rights; the collective and human rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Sovereignty with a big ‘S’.” ~ Tadodaho Sid Hill in his letter to Indian Country, leaders of the world and the public at large on behalf of the Onondaga Nation.
“Ms. Gonnella Frichner, worked closely with global Indigenous leadership, as well as the Onondaga Nation and the Haudenosaunee. She devoted her life to the pursuing of the right to self-determination, sovereignty, treaty rights, and individual and collective rights for Indigenous Peoples.” ~ Syracuse Post-Standard Obituary
“The first thing indigenous peoples on the planet share is the experience of having been invaded by those who have treated us without compassion because they have considered us less than human, or not human,” Ms. [Gonnella] Frichner said in a statement announcing a United Nations report in 2010. “Dehumanization,” she continued, “has led to the second thing we as indigenous peoples share in common: being treated on the basis of the belief that those who have invaded our territories have a right of lordship or dominance over our existence as indigenous nations and peoples and, therefore, illegitimately claim the right to take, grant away and dispose of our lands, territories and resources bequeathed to us by our ancestors, without our permission and consent.” ~ New York Times Obituary
Maxine Nolan Gonnella
served the American Indian Law Alliance since its inception and was one of the mentors and leaders upon whom we depend for guidance.