Tonya Gonnella Frichner

President and founder of the American Indian Law Alliance


Tonya Gonnella Frichner. Activist. Attorney. Daughter of the Onondaga. Rejecting the view that indigenous peoples were “discovered,” you have worked tirelessly to restore the rights of self-determination and sovereignty for native peoples throughout the world. Your wise counsel in international forums for indigenous peoples redefined the discourse of domination and oppression of native peoples. As North America’s first indigenous woman appointed to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, you applied pragmatic and graceful pressure and succeeded in reversing United States opposition to the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. You have embodied the rights of autonomy and respect for the indigenous in the law as president and founder of the American Indian Law Alliance—in which role you litigated for the right to travel without passports and visas issued by usurping governments. You are a change agent: you transform people as well as policies. You strengthen communities through your work with the Seventh Generation Fund for Indian Development, which gives grants to grassroots organizations and to individuals historically excluded from such funding. The Great Law of Peace of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy guides your efforts: leaders must consider the impact of their decisions on the seventh generation yet to come. For your achievements The Ms. Foundation for Women named you Female Role Model of the Year, and you received the Harriet Tubman Humanitarian Award, which honors New York women who work in service to “the poor, the powerless, and the persecuted.” The lesson of your life is that we all have the power to make meaningful decisions and the responsibility to choose wisely. For the way that you call us to recognize the human dignity of all and for your vigorous devotion to indigenous rights, we say, in the Onondaga language, nya:weh. Thank you.

By the authority of the Board of Trustees of Colby College, I confer upon you, Tonya Gonnella Frichner, the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa. The hood with which you have been invested and this diploma which I place in your hand are visible symbols of your membership in this society of scholars, to all the rights and privileges of which I declare you entitled.

Conferred May 20, 2012

Tonya Gonnella Frichner is a lawyer and activist devoted to pursuing human rights for indigenous peoples. A professor of American Indian law and international human rights, she is a citizen of the Onondaga Nation, Snipe Clan, of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy, Haudenosaunee. She has worked closely with leaders of several American Indian nations, was North American regional representative to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and has been legal and diplomatic counsel to indigenous delegations in virtually all UN forums affecting indigenous peoples. She has won numerous awards and is a graduate of St. John’s University and City University of New York School of Law, where she is on the board of visitors.


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