An Indigenous path to healing

Audrey Barton and Barbara Bighead listen as Canon Ginny Doctor explains how healthy ways forward require Indigenous people to confront their history. Photo: André Forget
Audrey Barton and Barbara Bighead listen as Canon Ginny Doctor explains how healthy ways forward require Indigenous people to confront their history. Photo: André Forget
Published August 18, 2015
Port Elgin, Ont.
In order to help bring others to a place of health, leaders must first be healthy themselves.

This is the wisdom underpinning the Indigenous healthy pathways training that Indigenous ministries co-ordinator Canon Ginny Doctor is encouraging Indigenous Anglicans in Canada to become involved in.

“The goal of Pathways is to offer Indigenous people a safe, sacred place to begin or continue their healing journey,” says the handout Doctor distributed at the beginning of a workshop at the 8th National Anglican Sacred Circle being held here August 16-22. “Our people need to heal before they can become effective and healthy lay leaders in our churches and communities.”

At the first workshop, on August 18, Doctor led 23 Indigenous and non-Indigenous Anglican laypeople and clergy through the training—its methods, principles and practices—and answered questions about how it could be implemented in Indigenous communities in Canada.

The training is designed to take place over the course of a weekend (though Doctor stressed that it was flexible and open to modification), and was organized around the notion that to discover who they are, Indigenous people need to understand history on national, state or provincial, local and personal levels. Participants are encouraged to draw connections between how their personal and local histories are part of much larger social and historical movements, and how their own pain is part of a much larger set of hurts and injustices.

“Many of the people in the training had no clue about what that history meant, and how it did affect who they are,” Doctor said, speaking of the first training session held in Alaska.

This discussion of history then leads into a discussion of racism, and the way racism can lead to internalized oppression and how internalized white superiority can help individuals and groups understand that negative behaviour. For example, passive-aggressive ways of dealing with conflict can be a product of this kind of internalization of inferiority, she said. Passive-aggressive behaviours were not part of traditional Indigenous cultures, she added.

In its final report issued last June, the Truth and Reconciliation of Commission of Canada (TRC) urged the federal and provincial governments to implement health care rights for Aboriginal people, noting that many of them face significant health issues as “a direct result of previous government policies.” In 2013, a report submitted by the UN special rapporteur on human rights noted the “distressing socio-economic conditions” and inadequate funding in health care, housing, education and social services for Indigenous communities. It also noted the high rates of suicide among Aboriginal youth and the high rates of violence against Indigenous women and girls.

But while the training encourages individuals to face the pain in their own lives, it also provides spiritual and community support for them to move toward healing. This movement toward healing involves a personal plan for how participants will work toward physical, mental, emotional and spiritual healing.

Doctor stressed that spiritual healing always has to be based on what is right for the context—in some communities, this may mean smudging and the eucharist, while in others it may involve different rituals. She also noted that while this program was designed by Christians, it can be modified for traditional communities that are uncomfortable with the colonial overtones of things like Gospel-based discipleship.

In an interview after the workshop, Doctor said the training had been developed by an informal ecumenical group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous women, but it had its genesis in conversations she had while working at the national office of The Episcopal Church. Although these conversations began in 1998, the program wasn’t launched for another nine years.

Since then, however, the Indigenous healthy pathways training has been used in various places across the United States, including Nevada, Montana and California, where Doctor said it has been “very successful.”

But it has yet to be used in Canada, which is why Doctor is hoping her Sacred Circle workshop will spark some interest.

“We’ve talked about doing it, but we haven’t been able to put it out there,” she said. “So I thought this would be a good time to at least explain what it is.”

Several participants expressed interest in learning more during the question period, and at least one of them, the Rev. Norm Wesley, from Moose Factory, Ont., in the diocese of Moosonee, said he was interested in hosting the training session in his own community.

His community has been affected by drug and alcohol abuse problems, said Wesley, adding that programs that will enable young people to “rediscover” themselves are crucial.

“I’ve done a lot of training and facilitation…over the years, and I find this a really interesting approach of bringing stuff out of people and getting answers from themselves,” said Wesley, who has a background in education. “I’m looking forward to trying it—facilitating it and leading it.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated.


We are dealing with a lot of things in terms of the drug and alcohol factor, and people, I think, are being affected by that considerably, so we have to look at having programs where we reach out to take young people out…to rediscover themselves,” he said.
I’ve done a lot of training and facilitation…


  • André Forget

    André Forget was a staff writer for the Anglican Journal from 2014 to 2017.

Related Posts

Skip to content