U.N. Permanent Forum names North American representative

by: Gale Courey Toensing / Indian Country Today

NEW YORK - Tonya Gonnella Frichner, an impassioned advocate for the rights of more than 370 million indigenous peoples in some 70 countries worldwide, has been named the North American representative to the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Frichner is the founder and president of the American Indian Law Alliance and the vice chair of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indian Development, both nonprofit indigenous organizations dedicated to supporting, promoting and maintaining sovereignty, human rights and social justice for indigenous peoples through advocacy, grants, training, technical assistance and other assistance.

A citizen of the Onondaga Nation of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy, Frichner is widely known for her dedicated work as an attorney, educator, advocate and longtime leader on behalf of indigenous peoples' rights throughout North America and beyond.

Born and raised in the Onondaga's traditional territories (what is now known as New York state), Frichner was imbued with and shaped by her people's history and culture, which she then applied through two decades of work in the United Nations and other international forums.

''Her life has been guided and defined by the rich international advocacy heritage of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, as well as by the excellent oratory and critical thinking skills she learned directly from her mother and family, and her chiefs and clan mothers whose ancestors were the first Indigenous Nation to execute a treaty with the new United States in 1776,'' Christopher Peters, president of Seventh Generation Fund for Indian Development, said in a prepared statement.

Frichner's legacy has impressed her with the power and importance of an indigenous presence in international relations, and of the critical significance of treaty rights and obligations between nation states and indigenous nations, Peters said.

''Clearly, such a perspective will be of great benefit to her new role in the U.N. Permanent Forum,'' Peters said.

The U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is an advisory body to the Economic and Social Council with a mandate to discuss indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights.

The forum is the United Nation's central coordinating body for matters relating to the concerns and rights of the world's indigenous peoples. The forum holds annual two-week sessions in New York and Geneva.

Frichner's three-year term will begin Jan. 8, 2008, and run until December 2010, a period in which the struggle for the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the U.N. General Assembly will continue to take center stage.

Frichner is committed to the declaration's adoption.

''This document is built of the sweat and tears of indigenous peoples, and when adopted, it will provide hope and optimism for meaningful change for our peoples throughout the world,'' Frichner said in a statement announcing her election as representative to the forum.

The declaration was finalized last year at the forum's fifth session and adopted by the U.N.'s Human Rights Council, but last fall the general assembly failed to adopt what has been called ''the most important international instrument for the promotion and protection of the human rights of indigenous peoples'' by Roberto Mucaro Borrero, of the Indigenous Peoples' Caucus, and chair of the NGO Committee on the Decade of the World's Indigenous People.

During last fall's session, a group of African states, many of which had chosen not to participate during 24 years of negotiating the declaration, blocked its adoption by voting to hold more ''consultations'' about the document. The move was made with the support and encouragement of New Zealand, Canada, Australia and the United States. These opponents are all countries with large populations of indigenous peoples who own significant land and resources, including more than 560 federally recognized tribes in the United States.

The sixth session of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will take place at the United Nations in New York May 14 - 25. This year's special theme is Territories, Lands and Natural Resources.

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