Anglicans remember Ginny Doctor as visionary leader who helped lay foundations for self-determining Indigenous church
The Rev. Canon Virginia “Ginny” Doctor, coordinator of Indigenous Ministries and a major architect of the self-determining Indigenous church, died on May 26. She was 71 years old.
Church leaders, General Synod staff and members of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) expressed shock at Doctor’s unexpected passing and offered an outpouring of praise and gratitude for their departed friend and colleague.
Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, first announced Doctor’s death in a public statement. “Ginny has served in Indigenous ministries with dedication and passion, committed to the work of reconciliation and the emerging self-determining Indigenous Church,” Nicholls said.
“Her deep faith, sense of humour and steadfast support for Indigenous rights is remembered with thanksgiving. Her death is a deep loss for the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous communities across Canada and in the United States.”
National Indigenous Archbishop Mark MacDonald praised Doctor’s leadership of Indigenous Ministries and her role as a mentor.
Doctor, he said, “was always very effective at taking the dynamics and limitations of what the church system gave to Indigenous people, particularly women … and putting it together in such a way as to provide a way forward for people.”
“There is a large group of young Indigenous—and a number of non-Indigenous people as well—who have been mentored by her,” he added. “She has a trail of people who will carry on her work over the years.”
Former primate Fred Hiltz, who worked closely with Doctor during much of her time as Indigenous Ministries coordinator, described her as a “very spiritually strong woman” who took pride in her Mohawk heritage and ancestry.
Hiltz praised Doctor as a great teacher and writer, and a “real visionary for the self-determining Indigenous church.”
“If you look at all the documents that have been produced over the years, that have been considered by ACIP and considered by Sacred Circle and found their way to Council of General Synod and the General Synod—Ginny Doctor’s mind and her heart and her hand is just writ large in all those documents, because I think she was, in many respects, the primary author of them all,” Hiltz said. “That will be a long-lasting and beautiful legacy of her ministry, I think.”
A member of the Mohawk Nation Turtle Clan and dual citizen of Canada and the United States, Doctor spent her early career as executive director of the North American Indian Club of Syracuse in New York State. There, she helped provide services for Indigenous residents experiencing poverty.
After many years in that position, Doctor turned to ministry. In 1993 she became the first appointed Mohawk missionary in the Episcopal Church. Doctor lived in Alaska for 20 years, first working as a missionary in the village of Tanana, and in 2001 was ordained as an Episcopal priest. In 2011, she accepted the position of Indigenous Ministries coordinator for the Anglican Church of Canada, taking over the role from Donna Bomberry.
Bomberry, currently a volunteer for the national church and member of ACIP, was a strong supporter of Doctor carrying on her work. The two continued to collaborate on projects in recent years. She reported being “shocked and overcome with sadness and loss” at Doctor’s death.
“Ginny was Mohawk Turtle Clan and I am Cayuga Turtle Clan, so I called her Cuz,” Bomberry said. “I, along with many, will greatly miss Ginny and her talents and contributions to the Anglican Church and especially Indigenous Ministries.”
Teresa Mandricks, program associate at the secretariat of the National Indigenous Archbishop, worked with Doctor and MacDonald for many years at Church House. “Her laughter and humour spread all around, even when there were challenges,” Mandricks said.
The Indigenous Ministries coordinator’s favourite phrase, she noted, was “Get on with it!”
“She was creative, and her creativity rubbed [off] on me…. While no longer with us physically, that love continues to resonate in the bonds of all those who were fortunate enough to be in one of her many circles.”
Anglican Video senior producer Lisa Barry collaborated with Doctor on many projects. The two first met when Doctor was representing the Episcopal Church at the 1993 Sacred Circle, which took place at Minaki Lodge in northwestern Ontario.
“It was a very tough Sacred Circle,” Barry remembered. “Many residential school survivors shared their childhood memories of pain and trauma. Ginny spoke at that meeting. She was clear and strong and smart and serious and she had a vision for healing for Indigenous people.”
When Doctor took over as Indigenous Ministries coordinator, Barry said, they began to build trust and a friendship developed. “Over the years, Ginny and I realized that we made a good team.” The pair’s collaborations included “passion projects” of Doctor’s on suicide prevention, anti-racism training, filming of Sacred Circles, and historical projects to help shape the emerging self-determining Indigenous church.
Their “ultimate passion project”, Barry said, was the 2019 feature-length documentary Doctrine of Discovery: Stolen Lands, Strong Hearts. Doctor served as executive producer for the film and Barry as producer/director.
“It was a tough project and we fought for it every step of the way,” Barry says. Doctor, she added, “challenged me a lot and she helped a lot. She had great ideas and a passion for excellence and truth.”
At one screening of the film, Doctor asked Barry to join her at the podium and introduced her as the film’s director and her friend.
“She said that our friendship embodied reconciliation,” Barry remembers. “My eyes filled with tears and my heart filled with love and pride. I was so proud to be Ginny Doctor’s friend and I will never forget that moment.”
Barry “cried and cried for many days” after Doctor’s death, but eventually found herself “filled with a deep sense of gratitude for the time I had with Ginny Doctor and for what I learned from her and with her…. This proud Mohawk woman is in my heart, and not just my heart, but the hearts of many people…. She gave so much to so many.”
Archbishop Hiltz—recently rewatching the Doctrine of Discovery film, in which Doctor narrates large sections—was struck by “how blessed we are that we’ll always be able to hear Ginny speaking” through the documentary and other Anglican Video projects, in addition to her written works.
“It’s just lovely to know that in a sense, her voice will never die,” Hiltz said. “It will always be with us, and it’ll always be a voice that will, I think, encourage, inspire and empower people as the journey to self-determination takes its course.”
A gospel jam has been scheduled which will—in part—honour Doctor’s memory. Returning Home: A tribute to loved ones lost will be broadcast on Saturday, June 12, from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET / 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. CT via NCI and Wawatay Radio networks.
To join this tribute and share memories, stories, songs, pictures or anecdotes of Doctor, visit https://www.anglican.ca/im/gospeljam.