Women’s Conference

1024 642 Ann Mortifee

by Marina Endicott


Through songs and stories, women from the Cochrane area and from the Morley reserve found new ways to speak to each other last weekend, and new ways to listen. Singing the Same Song: Women Celebrating Women was the third annual Women’s Conference to be held in Cochrane. Organizers of the conference designed it to build bridges between the two cultures, and.even they were surprised at the overwhelmingly positive response from participants. The room at the Western Heritage Museum was full to overflowing with more than 250 women, who spent the day thinking about their place in their own bodies, in their families, and in the world.

Mrs. Georgie Mark, an elder from the Morley reserve, gave the opening prayer and blessings at lunch and at the ending of the conference. Ann Mortifee’s keynote speech (keynote because it was full of notes and in the key of G) began the conference on Saturday morning. Mortifee sang, accompanied by her own drumming, at intervals through her talk. By the end of her hour-long opening she had the entire audience standing in a huge circle around the edges of the room, singing with her “Spiraling down to the centre, the centre of the earth…”

Her thesis was straightforward: “In the first part of our life we build up all the differences and sorrows and misery we can possibly get hold of. In the second part we try to get rid of them, heal them, and release them.”

Mortifee told the crowd she was brought up on a sugar cane farm in Zulu land, under South Africa’s apartheid policy. “I remember one day standing outside my white house on the hill,” she said, “Wondering why I was born into the white house, why not in the mud huts – why I was white and not black? I knew these were important questions, and that if I could find an answer I wouldn’t be so anxious.”

“There’s a reason we were born into different bodies, different races,” Mortifee told the group. “The Great Spirit does not do things for nothing. It’s our job to find out why this body, why this time,why this personality? To find out why Creator made us.”

She compared the pain of living to the grit inside an oyster. “What creates the pearl is dissatisfaction, discomfort. The oyster coats the grit to make it less painful to carry. The pearl is our wisdom, which we gain by living with pain.” The word Shaman, Mortifee said, means the Wounded Healer. She found great comfort in that translation. “I’d spent my life trying to heal, but to be yourself is to be wounded. Instead of saying ‘I’m wounded, I’m a victim’, say ‘Thank God that I am wounded!”

Ann Mortifee

Singer Ann Mortifee is a genre unto herself. Blessed with a remarkable four-octave range and a gift for impacting hearts with her music and lyrics, her albums, concerts, full-length musicals, scores (ballet, film, opera, TV), and In Love with the Mystery book have generated national/international distinctions and awards. She is an Order of Canada Member, the country’s highest civilian honour. A world traveller, compelling storyteller, and sought-after keynote speaker for major conferences, Ann creates and facilitates inspiring arts and consciousness workshops and co-founded two foundations - for social innovation and for forestry conservation. Based in BC, Ann is the wife of the late jazz flutist, Paul Horn.

All stories by: Ann Mortifee