Courtesy International Treaty Council
Tonya Gonnella Frichner of the American Indian Law Alliance and Roberto Mukaro Borrero of the International Indian Treaty Council attend the UNGA “Earth Day” Interactive Dialogue session, April 22, 2014.

Tonya Gonnella Frichner: ‘Mother Earth Is a Relative, Not a Resource’

Gale Courey Toensing

At an Earth Day event at the United Nations, Tonya Gonnella Frichner, a celebrated advocate for Indigenous Peoples human rights in the international arena, gave a passionate speech for the restoration and long term protection of Mother Earth.

Gonnella Frichner (Onondaga) is the president and founder of the American Indian Law Alliance and former North American Regional Representative to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. On April 22 – International Mother Earth Day – she was invited by the International Indian Treaty Council to be a presenter during the opening ceremony of the 4th Interactive Dialogue of the General Assembly on Harmony with Nature. This year’s theme was: “The promotion of a balanced integration of the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development through Harmony with Nature.” While her presentation represented diverse elements of civil society – gender, youth, people with disabilities – her perspective was emphatically indigenous.

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Gonnella Frichner applauded the 4th Interactive Dialogue goals of linking economic development to sustainability and using a more ethical basis for the relationship between humanity and the natural world. “Harmony with Nature, for Indigenous Peoples, has been our worldview goal and the basis of our existence. We have always served as stewards of Mother Earth and we share with humanity these beliefs, which serve as the basis of our life ways,” she said. “We submit that humanity and the natural world are best served by the full and equal participation of Indigenous Peoples, Women, Youth, and Persons with Disabilities and recognizing their inherent right to self-determination and the principle of free, prior and informed consent in the United Nations development agenda post-2015.”

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A recurring mantra throughout the speech was the affirmation that “Mother Earth is a relative, not a resource.” Part of the challenge in changing the way people treat the natural world is that many non-indigenous people think the expression “Mother Earth” is a metaphor, but “it’s not,” Gonnella Frichner told Indian Country Today Media Network.

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