Tonya Gonnella Frichner

Tonya Gonnella Frichner Among Honorary Degree Recipients at Colby College

Gale Courey Toensing
4/25/12

Tonya Gonnella Frichner, a citizen of the Onondaga Nation, Snipe Clan, will receive an honorary degree from Colby College during its 191st Commencement on May 20.

The prestigious liberal arts college in Maine announced recently that Gonnella Frichner will be among five “accomplished and influential” individuals to receive honorary degrees, including: David E. Shaw, managing director of Black Point Group and founder of IDEXX Labs; Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences and chair of the National Research Council; Robert D. Putnam, Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, who was called “the most influential academic in the world today” by the Sunday Times of London; and National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master and 2011 Guggenheim Fellow Randy Weston, a renowned pianist, cultural ambassador, and innovator.

Gonnella Frichner is a lawyer and activist who has devoted her life to the pursuit of human rights for Indigenous Peoples on a national and international level. From 2008 to 2011, Gonnella Frichner served as North American Regional Representative to the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

She is the president and founder of the 33-year-old American Indian Law Alliance (AILA), an indigenous, non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO) that works with indigenous nations, communities and organizations in their struggle for sovereignty, human rights and social justice. The AILA is one of only 20 indigenous NGO’s with special consultative status with the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council.

Gonnella Frichner has received numerous recognitions, including the Harriet Tubman Humanitarian Achievement Award, Ellis Island Medal of Honor, the New York County Lawyers Association Award for Outstanding Public Service, and the Alston Bannerman Fellowship. She sits on several boards, including the Seventh Generation Fund and the Boarding School Healing Project.

She earned a Bachelor of Science degree, magna cum laude, from St. John’s University in New York City, 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 serves as legal counsel to the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team, international competitors at the World Cup level representing the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

Soon after graduating from law school in 1987, Gonnella Frichner served as a delegate to the U.N. Working Group on Indigenous Populations and legal counsel for the Haudenosaunee at the U.N. in Geneva. She participated in countless international human rights forums and was a vital part of the process of developing and negotiating the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly September 13, 2007 with 143 countries voting in favor, four against, and 11 abstaining. The four countries that voted against the Declaration—the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand—have since endorsed it.

On October 24, 2010, the 65th anniversary of the creation of the U.N. and barely two months before President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. was “lending its support” to the Declaration, Gonnella Frichner addressed an audience at the University of Maine. She talked about how Indigenous Peoples got a seat at the U.N. table and their continuing struggle for sovereignty and self-determination. She thanked the audience members for recognizing United Nations Day, but noted that Americans largely view international issues as unimportant.

“I don’t know if it’s because the U.S. is so isolated geographically and doesn’t think the rest of the world has anything to do with it, but it sort of acts that way, and the rest of us know that it’s never been that way and it’s never going to be that way, and once globalization hit in 1492, it hasn’t slowed down, it’s just accelerated and we are all interconnected and that is just the way it is,” Gonnella Frichner said.

Colby’s graduation ceremony is open to the public. For those unable to attend, a live webcast will be available on Colby’s website and on Colby's Facebook page.

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