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By Marites (Tess) Sison, Anglican Journal
The Rev. Canon Virginia “Ginny” Doctor, a Mohawk from the Six Nations and canon to the ordinary for the Episcopal diocese of Alaska, is the new indigenous ministries coordinator for the Anglican Church of Canada.
Doctor, 61, is a dual citizen of Canada and the U.S. and has spent 18 years in ministry in Alaska. She has worked “in virtually every aspect of indigenous ministry,” said National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald. “The most important element of her work…will be the spiritual dimension she brings to her ministry.”
The leadership of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP), which represents aboriginal Anglicans in the Canadian church, appointed Doctor after a selection process that took several months. Doctor succeeds Donna Bomberry, who retired last spring.
Doctor told the Anglican Journal that serving indigenous Canadian Anglicans “is something that God has called me to do,” adding that she is encouraged by the direction the church has taken in establishing a self-determining national indigenous ministry. “I find it very exciting to really see our native people in Canada take responsibility for the ministry, to reclaim it and to move forward in ways that I don’t think anyone could ever have imagined.”
Indigenous ministry in Canada is familiar territory for Doctor, who has worked with ACIP as the Alaskan church’s partner representative for many years. She also worked with Bishop MacDonald when he was bishop of Alaska in the 1990s; Doctor was named chief executive officer when he left in 2007 to join the Canadian church. “It’s a lot like going home,” Doctor said of her new appointment, adding that she is excited about reuniting with her relatives north of the border. Her mother was a member of the Mohawk Nation at the Six Nations Reserve in Oshweken, Ont., and her father was a member of the Onondoga Nation, south of Syracuse, where Doctor was born and raised.
Seeking justice for indigenous people and developing “healthy, effective” native leaders are two of Doctor’s biggest passions. The civil rights movement and social unrest in the 1960s had a great impact on her, said Doctor. Martin Luther King became her hero. “Sadly, we had not been told of any Native American heroes. So, that prompted me to learn more about our history as native people,” said Doctor.
Prior to becoming the first appointed Mohawk missionary in the Episcopal Church in the U.S. in 1993, Doctor worked as executive director of the urban Indian center, which provided services for impoverished natives living in Syracuse. Her encounter with second-generation clients made her realize that “we would continue to operate a revolving door until we could improve and/or restore the spiritual lives of our people.”
Her ministry in Alaska has involved training programs that “help people heal from historical trauma,” said Doctor. She hopes to do the same in Canada. “A lot has been done, but I feel there’s more to be done…I really hope to be able to help with that.”
MacDonald noted that Doctor has “as much experience as anyone in the creation and maintenance of networks of support and ministry.”
Music is another important component of Doctor’s ministry. “My music is just as eclectic as my reading (choices),” said Doctor, who plays the guitar and has “quite a collection” of musical instruments, including handheld drums and rattles.
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