Gonnella Frichner, Esq.
(Snipe Clan, Onondaga Nation,
Haudenosaunee, Iroquois Confederacy)
Onondaga Woman Gets UN Post
Tonya is President and founder of the American Indian Law
Alliance in New York, a lawyer and activist, whose academic and
professional life has been devoted to the pursuit of human rights
for Indigenous peoples. She earned a Bachelor of Science Degree,
magna cum laude, from St. John’s University in NYC, 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. Tonya also
sits on the Board of Directors and serves as legal counsel to the
Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team, international competitors at the
World Cup level representing the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
In 1987, shortly after graduation from law school, she served as
a delegate for and was of legal counsel to the Haudenosaunee at the
UN Sub-Commission on the Human Rights/Working Group on Indigenous
Populations in Geneva, Switzerland. Since that time, Tonya has
actively participated in international forums for Indigenous
peoples. She has worked closely with elders from the Haudenosaunee
Confederacy (especially the Onondaga nation) and the Lakota Nation
(through the Teton Sioux Nation Treaty Council). Her most recent
efforts were focused on the process of the establishment of the
Permanent Forum On Indigenous Issues, and the negotiation
processes concerning the draft, “ UN Declaration on the Rights of
Indigenous Peoples” and the proposed OAS “Declaration on the
Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
For her work with Indigenous peoples, Tonya has been honored with
(to name just a few) the Harriet Tubman Humanitarian Achievement
Award, the Female Role Model of the Year (one of 10) of the Ms.
Foundation for Women, the Thunderbird Indian of the Year Award,
Ellis Island Medal of Honor, and the NY County Lawyers Association
Award for Outstanding Public Service. Most recently, she was a
recipient of the Alston Bannerman Fellowship. She sits on several
boards, including the Seventh Generation Fund and the Boarding
School Healing Project.
Onondaga Nation Woman Gets UN Post
By Mike McAndrew, Staff writer, The Post-Standard,
For the next
three years, an Onondaga Nation woman will represent millions of
Native Americans in the United Nations, trying to persuade diplomats
to recognize the rights of indigenous people.
Tonya Gonnella Frichner will spend most of her time in Manhattan as
North America's regional representative
to the United Nations' Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
Frichner, an attorney who has been active in U.N. issues for more
than 20 years, is at ease with the highly stylized language and
customs of the U.N. She has met with foreign presidents and
ambassadors. But she
feels at home in the Onondaga Nation Longhouse and in Syracuse,
where she grew up.
Last weekend, she traveled to the Onondaga Longhouse to brief the
nation's chiefs and clan mothers on some issues she has been working
on for them.
Frichner is not the nation's lawyer or its land claim counsel. For
years, the American Indian Law Alliance, a not-for-profit
organization she runs, has done research for the Onondaga and five
other Indian nations in the Haudenosaunee.
She advised the Onondaga Nation on flag protocol when it asked the
LaFayette School District to raise the Haudenosaunee flag outside
its high school. She has helped the Onondaga and the Iroquois
National lacrosse team resolve visa issues with foreign governments.
Frichner, 60, has
devoted her life to promoting the welfare of Native Americans -
although she has no Onondaga children, she cannot live on the
Onondaga territory because she is married to a non-native, and none
of her seven siblings live at Onondaga.
"It isn't about me," said Frichner, who said she works for the
collective good of indigenous people. "The satisfaction of doing
something I believe in . . . that's a great gift."
Kimberly Tobian, of Chaffee Avenue, said that helping native people
has always been her older sister's love.
"It's her calling. It always has been. Even when we were younger,
she would say I want to help our people. She wanted to make a
difference," said Tobian, a homemaker with four children.
Frichner was raised on Burnet Avenue by her late mother, Maxine
Gonnella, an Onondaga, and her late Italian-American father, Hank
Gonnella Sr. One of Frichner's late uncles, Leo Nolan, was an
Onondaga chief. Her mother was involved in the Native American
Service Club and in establishing a Native American curriculum in
Syracuse's public schools.
Frichner is married to Herb Frichner, a businessman and professor.
They live in northern New Jersey. The
UN established its Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2000. In
addition to Frichner, there are 15 other representatives who lead
Frichner is the first Onondaga named to the unpaid U.N. post.
"This is a big coup for us," she said. "It is cause forr
Frichner was appointed by Dalius Cekuolis, the Lithuanian ambassador
to the U.N., who was president
of the U.N. Economic and Social Council. Her term began Jan. 1.
Frichner has worked on issues before the U.N. for years.
Last September, she and Onondaga Faithkeeper Oren Lyons and others
helped win U.N. approval of a Declaration on the Rights of
Indigenous People. The non-binding declaration affirms the rights of
indigenous populations to self-government in matters relating to
their internal affairs and prohibits discrimination against them.
The United States was one of only four U.N. countries to vote
against the declaration.
Frichner said she
looks forward to meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador
to the United Nations, in the coming year to discuss the United
She is also looking forward to April, when up to 2,000 indigenous
people from around the world will visit the U.N. for the
Permanent Forum's 10-day conference on climate change.
Sometimes the slow pace of the United Nations can be maddening,
Frichner said. But she said the U.N. remains the best
international forum for promoting peace and human rights.
Mike McAndrew can be reached at 470-3016 or
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