Tonya Gonnella Frichner October 2014
Tonya Gonnella Frichner outside the United Nations in October 2014.

First Nations in Canada Remember Tonya Gonnella Frichner


Like their counterparts below the 49th Parallel, First Nations in Canada is feeling keenly the passing of Tonya Gonnella Frichner, and on February 18 the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) paid tribute to the indigenous advocate’s life and work.

“Tonya Gonnella Frichner was a tireless advocate for Indigenous Peoples, indigenous women and indigenous rights,” said AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde in a statement. “Tonya was a key driver in helping set-up the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and worked with the AFN Women’s Council during the development of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

The lawyer, activist and academic understood the special role that indigenous women and girls played within their families, communities and nations, the AFN said. As such she “always worked to ensure her sisters were celebrated and honored for their strength, wisdom and resilience,” the AFN said.

Among her many achievements, Gonnella Frichner played a key role in preparations for the UNPFII Eighth Session Special Theme 3: regarding indigenous women, held on May 18, 2009, the AFN said. The statement noted that she worked with the organization “to facilitate the opening ceremony ‘Honoring of Indigenous Women’ and the celebration of indigenous women by leaders and states worldwide,” the AFN said. “For the first time in U.N. history, indigenous women from all parts of the world gathered in a circle around the U.N. forum parameters in ceremonial regalia and were honored.”

Gonnella Frichner succumbed to cancer on February 14 after a decade-long battle with the disease.

“Tonya Gonnella Fichner is a true leader,” said Bellegarde. “She’ll be remembered for her dedication, compassion and unwavering belief in her people.”

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