“What’s a Hutterite?” It’s a question I was asked so often at book signings in eastern Canada that I cheekily told one gentleman, “It’s something good to eat!” He seemed delighted. “I love to cook,” he declared as he grabbed a copy of I Am Hutterite with his meaty hands and headed to the cash register.
Here in western Canada there are over 450 Hutterite colonies dotting the prairie landscapes of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Most people recognize a Hutterite when they see someone dressed a certain way. I don’t discount the many extraordinary souls in mainstream society who have come to know Hutterites and consider them true friends. But in many cases Hutterites remain as misunderstood as Syrian refugees. I have accepted the challenge of giving Hutterite issues a forum by becoming the first Hutterite newspaper columnist in Canada.
Oddly, even Hutterites are confused about their identity. Many who leave the colony call themselves ex-Hutterites, attempting to imply they’re former Hutterites. I have news for you, honey. There is no such thing as an ex-Hutterite. You can’t be ex-Hutterite any more than you can be ex-Aboriginal, or ex-Mennonite or ex-Ukrainian. The blood that runs through your veins is a God thing. He gave you your heritage and it’s non-negotiable. We would laugh out loud if an Aboriginal person told us they were ex-Aboriginal because they left the reserve or their community. People should laugh out loud if a Hutterite tells you they are ex-Hutterite because they left the colony.
My parents left Fairholme Colony when I was a 10 year old girl. I cherish my young years, am fluent in the Hutterisch language and am honored and humbled by the gift of my heritage. I am very thankful that my Manitoba community allowed my family to return for visits. It helped us remain connected to our roots. Still, I am asked by many off-colony Hutterites how we kept that connection. Yes, it’s complicated but it makes it easier if both sides put on an effort. It’s disingenuous to call yourself a Christian community or a Christian without that extended hand. There is that small matter of respect. When my family first left Fairholme, we returned once a month for a visit. My parents made us wear our traditional clothing and didn’t overstay their welcome. It was an important lesson. Even today I wear a modest skirt or dress when visiting a colony. And I keep my make-up and jewelry to a minimum. A little effort goes a long way.
Leaving the colony because of a conflict or because the bright lights of the big city are too much to resist or even because you just can’t stand not owning your own Ram truck doesn’t put an ex on your Hutterite passport. We all have an inherent right to feel proud of our culture and no one has the authority to make us feel otherwise.
Hutterite Hotline is published by the Prince Albert Daily Herald.
Mary-Ann Kirkby is a professional speaker and the award-winning, best-selling author of I Am Hutterite, and Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen. Signed books are available online at www.polkadotpress.ca .
Follow her at: https://www.facebook.com/maryannkirkbyhutterite
If you have a Hutterite story to share you can contact Mary-Ann at firstname.lastname@example.org or by FAX at 306-922-4810.