Staff and Board

Betty Lyons, (Onondaga Nation, Snipe Clan)

  • President & Executive Director

Betty Lyons, President & Executive Director of the American Indian Law Alliance (AILA), is an Indigenous and environmental activist and citizen of the Onondaga Nation. Her native name, Gaen hia uh, meaning ‘small sky,’ was given to her by her Snipe Clan mother and has developed her love for the earth from her deep connection to her culture. Growing up Ms. Lyons learned a deep respect for the earth and the responsibility to protect it. Ms. Lyons worked together with the NOON organization (Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation) to educate and teach local communities about the culture of the Onondaga Nation to further a better understanding and to bridge the gap between the communities. Ms. Lyons has participated and organized rallies and demonstrations pushing for a ban on fracking in New York State, until a ban was achieved in December 2014.

Betty Lyons has worked for the Onondaga Nation for over seventeen years as a Public Relations Representative, Manager of the Onondaga Nation Arena, and as Executive Assistant to Tadodaho Sidney Hill. She has been an active participant at the annual United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) since the first session in 2001 and has coordinated the opening ceremonies. For over 10 years, Ms. Lyons was the President of Onondaga Minor Athletic Club where she organized and managed over 15 youth sports team programs.

Betty Lyons graduated from Cazenovia College ALA (2013), Bryant Stratton College Graduate of Paralegal Program Magna Cum Laude. She is also the hardworking mother of Garrett and Sid Jr.

Murielle Borst-Tarrant,
(Kuna/Rappahannock Nations)

  • Chief of Staff

Murielle Borst-Tarrant has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre and Dance from Long Island University and is the Director of Spiderwoman Theater. Her one woman show More than Feathers and Beads was nominated for a Rockefeller grant in 2001, won a Native Heart Award, and was selected from the United States to participate in the Global Indigenous Theater Festival, produced at the Sydney Opera House. She is currently Artistic Director of The SilverCloud Singers and Dancers, a traditional drum and dance group that has toured internationally. She is an author, playwright, director, producer, cultural artist, educator and human rights activist. She comes from a long line of cultural activism. Her non-fiction work is published by Miami University in Oxford Ohio on the Spiderwoman Theater methodology. She works on the deconstructing of methods of the arts in Native communities in urban areas across the country, Canada and in the New York City education system. She also consults many urban and non-urban universities on the development on Native theater programming. She has directed Muriel Miguel in her one woman show “Red Mother” at La MaMa Theater in NYC and across Canada.

Roger Drew

  • Research and Policy Advisor

Roger Drew has a bachelors degree focused on social justice and women’s studies and a graduate certificate in non-profit management. Before joining AILA in 2013, he had worked for years in social justice and human rights organizations and movements. He sits on the Board of Directors of the WESPAC Foundation, a 40 year-old social justice organization in Westchester County, NY. Among his awards and recognitions he is a past recipient of WESPAC’s annual Peace and Justice Award for his commitment to supporting youth activism.

Matthew Gonnella (Onondaga Heritage), International

  • Research Associate

Matthew attends Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire where he is graduating in May of 2015. Matthew is majoring in International Relations and Spanish with a minor in French. He is a three year captain for the Men’s Varsity Cross Country team and plans to attend to law school upon graduation where he will specialize in international law and human rights.

Tonya Gonnella Frichner (Onondaga Nation) 1947-2015, Emeritus

  • Founder

Tonya Gonnella Frichner is a lawyer and activist whose academic and professional life has been devoted to the pursuit of human rights for Indigenous peoples. Ms. Frichner earned a Bachelor of Science Degree, and her Juris Doctor from the City of New York Law School at Queens College, where she is a member of the Board of Visitors. She also sits on the Board of Directors for the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team and serves as their legal advisor.

In 1987, shortly after graduation from law school, she served as a delegate for and was legal counsel to the Haudenosaunee at the UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights/Working Group on Indigenous Populations in Geneva, Switzerland. Since that time, Ms. Frichner has been an active participant and legal and diplomatic counsel to Indigenous delegations in virtually all United Nations international forums affecting Indigenous peoples.

She has worked most closely with elders from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Lakota Nation. Her work at the American Indian Law Alliance is known by others to be principled, effective and transparent, thus facilitating collaborations with other groups and nations based on shared traditional values. She has considerable experience in the process of the establishment of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and in the negotiation process concerning the draft UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Organization of American States Proposed American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

For her work with Indigenous peoples, Ms. Frichner has been honored with the Spirit Award for International Service from American Indian Community House, Inc, the Harriet Tubman Humanitarian Achievement Award, the Female Role Model of the Year of the Ms. Foundation for Women, the Thunderbird Indian of the Year Award, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor and the NY County Lawyers Association Award for Outstanding Public Service and the Alston Bannerman Award, among others. She sits on several boards, including the Roundtable of Institutions of People of Color and the Seventh Generation Fund for Indian Development.

Selected Conferences Ms. Frichner attended:

2008 Commission on Sustainable Development and preparatory meetings

2002 Beijing +5 – Women: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-First Century and preparatory meetings

2002 Earth Summit, Rio+10 and preparatory meetings

2002 Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat 1) and preparatory meetings

2001 World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance and preparatory meetings

1993 World Conference on Human Rights and preparatory meetings

1992 Convention on Biological Diversity and preparatory meetings

1992 Earth Summit, and preparatory meetings

Other Achievements:
Vice-Chairperson of the Board of Directors for the Seventh Generation Fund for Indian Development

Founding Board Member of The Ingrid Washinawatok El Issa Flying Eagle Woman Fund for Peace, Justice and Sovereignty

Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Fund for the Four Directions

Board of Directors: City University of New York School of Law; Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Non-proliferation; Native American Council of New York; National Ethnic Coalition for Organizations and others

Member of the Boarding School Healing Project


Joanna O. Bigfeather
(Western Cherokee/Mescalero Apache)
is an internationally recognized artist and curator.

Chief Oren Lyons
(Onondaga Nation)
is Faithkeeper, Grand Council of Chiefs of the Haudenosaunee; an international activist for Native sovereignty; and Director of the Native Studies Program, SUNY Buffalo.

Tonya Gonnella Frichner
(Onondaga Nation)
1947-2015, Emeritus, Founder
is the President and Founder of the American Indian Law Alliance. She is an attorney, activist and recipient of numerous awards for community service, as well as an adjunct professor of Native American Law. She is also the North American Regional Representative to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Maxine Nolan Gonnella
(Onondaga Nation)
1929-2003, Emeritus,
served the American Indian Law Alliance since its inception and was one of the mentors and leaders upon whom we depend for guidance.

Herb Frichner, Treasurer,
is an established fashion marketing entrepreneur with years of experience in the fashion industry. Mr. Frichner conceived, developed, operated and owned Panache New York, Ltd. for over thirty years; a fashion forward coat, rainwear and outerwear company targeted to the upscale, sophisticated, tasteful female consumer. He was frequently quoted in media venues and is considered a fashion marketing expert. Mr. Frichner has served as an adjunct associate professor in the Fashion Merchandising and Marketing Department of the Fashion Institute of Technology for the past thirty-five years and for a five year period as an assistant professor of marketing at Parson’s School of Design. Throughout his career, Mr. Frichner was a conscientious and socially responsible entrepreneur committed to philanthropy and a contributor to the welfare of consumers and society as a whole.