Tonya Gonnella Frichner, a lawyer and professor from upstate New York who became a global voice for Native Americans in forging common ground with the world’s indigenous peoples, died on Feb. 14 at her home in Union City, N.J. She was 67.
Her husband, Herbert Frichner, said the cause was breast cancer.
The niece of a chief of the Onondaga Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy, Ms. Frichner founded the American Indian Law Alliance and served as North American regional representative to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
“Indigenous peoples all speak many different languages, but in our meetings, we are speaking one language,” Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, quoted her saying in September. “Our relationship to Mother Earth is identical.”
Ms. Frichner’s agenda included opposition to the Atlanta Braves fans’ celebratory tomahawk chop and to the natural gas drilling technology known as hydrofracking, which she said would have a disproportionate environmental effect on Native Americans and other minority groups.
Because she was not married to a member of the tribe, she did not live on the Onondaga reservation near Syracuse. But she worked closely with its leaders and with the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (once known as the Iroquois Confederacy) and the Lakota Nation, and envisioned a global alliance of America’s hundreds of Indian tribes and indigenous people worldwide.
“The first thing indigenous peoples on the planet share is the experience of having been invaded by those who have treated us without compassion because they have considered us less than human, or not human,” Ms. Frichner said in a statement announcing a United Nations report in 2010.
“Dehumanization,” she continued, “has led to the second thing we as indigenous peoples share in common: being treated on the basis of the belief that those who have invaded our territories have a right of lordship or dominance over our existence as indigenous nations and peoples and, therefore, illegitimately claim the right to take, grant away and dispose of our lands, territories and resources bequeathed to us by our ancestors, without our permission and consent.”
Ms. Frichner was born Tonya Keith Gonnella in Syracuse on Sept. 19, 1947. Her father, Henry, was an Italian-American construction worker. Her mother, the former Maxine Nolan, served on the school board, where, as an Onondaga, she sought to promote a Native American curriculum.
Ms. Frichner earned her undergraduate degree from St. John’s University and graduated from the City University of New York School of Law.
She later taught American Indian history and law, anthropology and human rights at City and Hunter Colleges of the City University of New York, as well as at Manhattanville College and New York University.
In addition to her husband, whom she married in 1978, she is survived by a son, Jason; her sisters, Kimberly Gonnella, Nannette Gonnella and Jacquelyn Thomas; and her brothers, Henry Gonnella Jr., Michael Gonnella, Thomas Gonnella and Christopher Gonnella.
Mr. Frichner attributed his wife’s commitment to the Indian cause to the Onondaga’s matriarchal society. “She always had a strong feeling for her people because of her mother,” Mr. Frichner said. “I met her when she was 24, and she had it then.”