On behalf of all of the Expert Members of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, it is with great sadness and respect that we collectively mourn the loss of our dear sister and predecessor, Tonya Gonnella Frichner.
Her service to her people, the Onondaga Nation, the Haudenosaunee as well as the Indigenous Peoples of North America and across the globe stands as an expression of commitment that few carried with such grace, beauty and respect. Her founding organization, the American Indian Law Alliance, was not only served well by her but also must be recognized for the contributions made to the 25 year long negotiation and final adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Some may recall the “AILA” proposal, which was a genuine and pivotal attempt to bridge the gap that existed between Indigenous Peoples and UN member states over the explicit recognition of our right to self- determination in international law.
Her voluntary service as an Expert Member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, as a capable individual nominated by the North American Indigenous Peoples’ nations and organizations, was a testament to her unrelenting advocacy for Indigenous Peoples. In this important role, Tonya brought energy, integrity, dedication, zest, humility and compassion. Even as late as January 29, 2015, Tonya was sharing her concerns about a voluntary optional protocol to the UN Declaration in anticipation of the dialogue that took place at the Forum’s Expert Group Meeting on this topic, which took place in New York from January 27-29, 2015.
Tonya served as an Expert Member of the Forum from January 2008 to December 2010 and her biography notes that she was a “Lawyer, diplomat, activist, Onondaga daughter, and the oldest of eight siblings, Tonya Gonnella Frichner continues to work closely with elders from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy as well as the Onondaga, Mohawk, and Lakota Nations (such as the Teton Sioux Nation Treaty Council), among others. She is known and cherished as a facilitator of knowledge and power for Indigenous Nations and grassroots Indigenous Peoples, making it a priority to attend a wide range of indigenous gatherings in the United States, Canada, and Latin America to build relationships and provide invaluable information, assistance and training to groups in these regions. Through community based strategies, Ms. Frichner has provided indigenous nations, communities, non-governmental organizations, youth and elders with the information and skills needed to better understand the United Nations processes and significant bodies, to remain informed of developments at the United Nations and Organization of American States such as the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, so that they may directly engage with these bodies. Such accessible and culturally relevant capacity building for Indigenous Peoples in North America is highly unusual, and Ms. Frichner’s leadership has meant changed lives, perspectives, and capacities in the Indigenous Nations and Peoples of this region.”
We know that she regarded her marriage and relationship with her husband and partner, Herb Frichner, as one of her greatest lifetime achievements. We express our heartfelt condolences to him as well as her other immediate and extended family members, the Onondaga Nation, and her worldwide network of friends.
A worthy goal for those who will never stop missing her is to strive to live with the same grace, spirit and determination. We will seek a way to memorialize her and her unrelenting advocacy for the Indigenous Peoples of her homelands, Turtle Island and the world over. We trust that her life will be celebrated not only by all of the members of the Iroquois Confederacy but by indigenous sisters and brothers in every region of the world.