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Hutterites (German: Hutterer) are an ethno-religious group that is a communal branch of Anabaptists who, like the Amish and Mennonites, trace their roots to the Radical Reformation of the 16th century. Since the death of their namesake Jakob Hutter in 1536, the beliefs of the Hutterites, especially living in a community of goods and absolute pacifism, have resulted in hundreds of years of diaspora in many countries. Nearly extinct by the 18th and 19th centuries, the Hutterites found a new home in North America. Over 125 years their population grew from 400 to around 42,000. Today, most Hutterites live in Western Canada and the upper Great Plains of the U.S.
- 1 History
- 2 Society
- 3 Colonies
- 4 Depiction in media
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
Originating in the Austrian province of Tyrol in the 16th century, the forerunners of the Hutterites migrated to Moravia to escape persecution. There, under the leadership of Jakob Hutter, they developed the communal form of living based on the New Testament books of the Acts of the Apostles (Chapters 2 (especially Verse 44), 4, and 5) and 2 Corinthians—which distinguishes them from other Anabaptists such as the Amish and Mennonites.
A basic tenet of Hutterian society has always been absolute pacifism (nonresistance), forbidding its members from taking part in military activities, taking orders, wearing a formal uniform (such as a soldier's or a police officer's) or contributing to war taxes. This has led to expulsion or persecution in the several lands in which they have lived. In Moravia, the Hutterites flourished for over a century, until renewed persecution caused by the Austrian takeover of the Czech lands forced them once again to migrate, first to Transylvania, and, then, in the early 18th century, to Ukraine, in the Russian Empire. Some Hutterites converted to Catholicism and retained a separate ethnic identity in Slovakia as the Habans until the 19th century (by the end of World War II, the Haban group had become essentially extinct). At this time the number of Hutterites had fallen to around 100. In Ukraine, the Hutterites enjoyed relative prosperity, although their distinctive form of communal life was influenced by neighboring Russian Mennonites. In time, though, Russia had installed a new compulsory military service law, and the pressure was on again.
After sending scouts to North America in 1873 along with a Mennonite delegation, three groups totaling 1,265 individuals migrated to North America between 1874 and 1879 in response to the new Russian military service law. Of these, 400 identified as Eigentümler (literally, 'owner') and shared a community of goods. Most Hutterites are descended from these 400. Named for the leader of each group (the Schmiedeleut, Dariusleut, and Lehrerleut, leut being based on the German word for people), they settled initially in the Dakota Territory; later, Dariusleut colonies were established in central Montana. Here, each group reestablished the traditional Hutterite communal lifestyle.
Several state laws were enacted seeking to deny Hutterites religious legal status to their communal farms (colonies). Some colonies were disbanded before these decisions were overturned in the Supreme Court. By this time, many Hutterites had already established new colonies in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
During World War I, the pacifist Hutterites suffered persecution in the United States. In the most severe case, four Hutterite men subjected to military draft who refused to comply were imprisoned and physically abused. Ultimately, two of the four men, the brothers Joseph and Michael Hofer, died at Leavenworth Military Prison from mistreatment, after the Armistice had been signed ending the war.
The Hutterite community responded by abandoning Dakota and moving 17 of the 18 existing American colonies to the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. With the passage of laws protecting conscientious objectors, however, some of the Schmiedeleut ultimately returned to the Dakotas beginning in the 1930s, where they built and inhabited new colonies. Some of the abandoned structures from the first wave still stand in South Dakota.
In 1942, alarmed at the influx of Dakota Hutterites buying copious tracts of land, the province of Alberta passed the Communal Properties Act, severely restricting the expansion of the Dariusleut and Lehrerleut colonies. The act was repealed in 1973, allowing Hutterites to purchase land. This act resulted in the establishment of a number of new colonies in British Columbia and Saskatchewan and at the same time there was expansion into Montana and eastern Washington in the 1940s and 1950s. Today, approximately three of every four Hutterite colonies are in Canada (mostly in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan), with almost all of the remainder in the United States (primarily South Dakota and Montana). The total Hutterite population in both countries is generally estimated between forty and fifty thousand.
For a few years in the early 1950s, and in 1974–1990, the Arnoldleut (or Bruderhof Communities) were recognized as Hutterites. Although most Hutterites live in the Midwestern United States and in Western Canada, Hutterite colonies have been established in Australia, Nigeria and Japan.
Hutterite communes, called "colonies", are all rural; many depend largely on farming or ranching, depending on their locale for their income. More and more colonies are getting into manufacturing as it gets harder to make a living on farming alone. The colony is virtually self-sufficient as far as contracting outside labor, constructing its own buildings, doing its own maintenance and repair on equipment, making its own clothes, etc. This has changed in recent years and colonies have started to depend a little more on outside sources for food, clothing, and other goods.
Governance and leadership
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Hutterite colonies are male-managed with women participating in traditional roles such as cooking, medical decisions, and selection and purchase of fabric for clothing. Each colony has three high-level leaders. The two top-level leaders are the Minister and the Secretary. A third leader is the Assistant Minister. The Minister also holds the position as President in matters related to the incorporation of the legal business entity associated with each colony. The Secretary is widely referred to as the colony "Manager", "Boss" or "Business Boss" and is responsible for the business operations of the colony, such as book-keeping, cheque-writing and budget organization. The Assistant Minister helps in church leadership (preaching) responsibilities, but will often also be the "German Teacher" for the school-aged children.
The Secretary's wife sometimes holds the title of Schneider (from German "tailor") and thus she is in charge of clothes making and purchasing the colony's fabric requirements for making of all clothing. The term "boss" is used widely in colony language. Aside from the Secretary who functions as the business boss, there are a number of other significant "boss" positions in most colonies. The most significant in the average colony is the "Farm Boss". This person is responsible for all aspects of overseeing grain farming operations. This includes crop management, agronomy, crop insurance planning and assigning staff to various farming operations.
Beyond these top-level leadership positions there will also be the "Hog Boss", "Dairy Boss" and so on, depending on what agricultural operations exist at the specific colony. In each case, these individuals are fully responsible for their area of responsibility and will have other colony residents working in their area.
The Minister, Secretary and all "boss" positions are elected positions and many decisions are taken to a vote before they are implemented.
The voting and decision-making process at most colonies is based upon a two-tiered structure including a council—usually seven senior males—and the voting membership which includes all the married men of the colony. For "significant" decisions the council will first vote and, if passed, the decision will be carried to the voting membership.
This structure has resulted in a democratic culture in most colonies. Officials not following the democratically selected decisions can be removed by a similar vote of a colony.
There is a wide range of leadership cultures and styles between the three main colony varieties. In some cases very dominant ministers or secretaries may hold greater sway over some colonies than others. However, the general prevailing culture in most colonies is strongly democratic.
Women and children hold no formal vote in decision-making power in a colony. They often hold influence on decision-making through the informal processes of a colony's social framework.
Overarching all internal governance processes within a single colony is the broader "Bishop" structure of leaders from across a "branch" (Lehrer-, Darius- or Schmiedeleut) such that all colonies within each branch are subject to the broader decision-making of that branch's "Bishop" council. A minister of a colony who does not ensure his colony follows broader "Bishop" council decisions can be removed from his position.
Hutterites practice a near-total community of goods: all property is owned by the colony, and provisions for individual members and their families come from the common resources. This practice is based largely on Hutterite interpretation of passages in chapters 2, 4, and 5 of Acts, which speak of the believers "having all things in common". Thus the colony owns and operates its buildings and equipment like a corporation. Housing units are built and assigned to individual families but belong to the colony and there is very little personal property. Lunch and dinner meals are taken by the entire colony in a dining or fellowship room. Men and women sit in a segregated fashion. Special occasions sometimes allow entire families to enjoy meals together. Individual housing units do have kitchens which are used for breakfast meals.
Each colony may consist of about 10 to 20 families (may not always apply), with a population of around 60 to 250, which falls within the limits of Dunbar's number. When the colony's population grows near the upper limit and its leadership determines that branching off is economically and spiritually necessary, they locate, purchase land for, and build a "daughter" colony.
The process by which a colony splits to create a new daughter colony varies across the branches of colonies. In Lehrerleut, this process is quite structured, while in Darius and Schmiedeleut the process can be somewhat less structured. In a Lehrerleut colony, the land will be purchased and buildings actually constructed before anyone in the colony knows who will be relocating to the daughter colony location. The final decision as to who leaves and who stays will not be made until everything is ready at the new location. During the construction process, the colony leadership splits the colony up as evenly as possible, creating two separate groups of families. The two groups are made as close as possible to equal in size, taking into account the practical limits of family unit sizes in each group. Additionally, the leadership must split the business operations as evenly as possible. This means deciding which colony might take on, for example, either hog farming or dairy. Colony members are given a chance to voice concerns about which group a family is assigned to, but at some point, a final decision is made. This process can be very difficult and stressful for a colony, as many political and family dynamics become topics of discussion, and not everyone will be happy about the process or its results.
Once all decisions have been made, the two groups might be identified as "Group A" and "Group B". The last evening before a new group of people is to leave the "mother" colony for the "daughter" colony, two pieces of paper, labeled "Group A" and "Group B", are placed into a hat. The minister will pray, asking for God's choice of the paper drawn from the hat, and will draw one piece of paper. The name drawn will indicate which group is leaving for the daughter colony. Within hours, the daughter colony begins the process of settling a brand new site.
This very structured procedure differs dramatically from the one that might be used at some Darius and Schmiedeleut colonies, where the split can sometimes be staggered over time, with only small groups of people moving to the new location at a time.
Agriculture and manufacturing
Hutterite colonies often own large tracts of land and, since they function as a collective unit, can afford top-of-the-line farm implements. Some also run industrial hog, dairy, turkey, chicken, and egg production operations. An increasing number of Hutterite colonies are again venturing into the manufacturing sector, a change that is reminiscent of an early period of Hutterite life in Europe. Before the Hutterites emigrated to North America, they relied on manufacturing to sustain their communities. It was only in Russia that the Hutterites learned to farm from the Mennonites. Because of the increasing automation of farming (large equipment, GPS-controlled seeding, spraying, etc.), farming operations have become much more efficient. Many colonies that have gone into manufacturing believe they need to provide their members with a higher level of education.
A major driving force for Hutterite leadership today is the recognition that land prices have risen dramatically in Alberta and Saskatchewan because of the oil and gas industry, thus creating the need for a greater amount of cash to buy land when it comes time for a colony to split. The splitting process requires the purchase of land and the construction of buildings. This can require funds in the range of $20 million CDN in 2008 terms, upwards of $10M for land and another $10M for buildings and construction. This massive cash requirement has forced leadership to re-evaluate how a colony can produce the necessary funds. New projects have included plastics manufacturing, metal fabrication, cabinetry, and stone or granite forming, to name a few. One unique project came together in South Dakota. A group of 44 colonies joined to create a turkey processing center where their poultry can be processed. The plant hired non-Hutterite staff to process the poultry for market. This plant helped to secure demand for the colonies' poultry.
Use of technology
Hutterites attempt to remove themselves from the outside world (televisions and in some cases Internet are banned), and up until recently, many of the Lehrerleut and Dariusleut (Alberta) colonies still only had one central phone. The Schmiedeleut had made this transition earlier, where each household had a telephone along with a central phone for the colony business operation. Phones are used for both business and social purposes. Cell phones are also very common among all three groups today. Text messaging has made cell phones particularly useful for Hutterian young people wishing to keep in touch with their peers. Most Hutterite homes have computers and radios; a minority of communities (mostly, liberal Schmiedeleut colonies) have Internet access. Farming equipment technology generally matches or exceeds that of non-Hutterite farmers. Lehrerleut colonies have recently struggled with the proliferation of computers and have clamped down so that computers are no longer allowed in households and their use is limited to only business and farming operations including animal, feed and crop management. But as the world evolves more and technology is used more and more for work and communication, many Hutterite young people use computers, photos and internet for keeping in contact with their friends, relatives and meeting new people outside the colony.
Rather than send their children to an outside school, Hutterites build a schoolhouse at the colony to fulfill the educational agreement with the province or state. The school is typically run by a hired "outside" teacher who teaches the basics including English. In some Schmiedeleut schools, teachers are chosen from the colony. The "German" education of colony children is the responsibility of the "Assistant Minister" at some colonies, but most colonies elect a "German Teacher", who in most cases also takes care of the colony garden. His job entails training in German language studies, Bible teaching, and scripture memorization. The German Teacher will cooperate with the outside teacher with regard to scheduling and planning. Some Hutterite colonies are allowed to send their children to public school as the parents see fit, but in some cases it is customary to remove them from school entirely in 8th grade or at the age of 15; however, many colonies offer them a full grade 12 diploma and in some cases a university degree. Public school in these instances is seen as a luxury and children are sometimes made to miss days of school in favor of duties at the colony. In a few rare cases, allowing a child to continue attending school past this limit can result in punishment of the parents, including shunning and removal from the church.
Three different branches of Hutterites live in the prairies of North America: the Schmiedeleut, the Dariusleut and the Lehrerleut. Though all three "leut" are Hutterites, there are some distinctive differences, including style of dress and organizational structure.[clarification needed] However, the original doctrine of all three groups is identical. The differences are mostly traditional and geographic.
There are two other related groups. The Arnoldleut—also referred to as the Bruderhof Communities or presently, Church Communities International—is a group of more recent origin which, prior to 1990, were accepted by the Dariusleut and Lehrerleut groups as a part of the Hutterite community. The Schmiedeleut were divided over the issue. One group is called the 'oilers', because of an issue over an oil well. The other is the Prairieleut—Hutterites that lived in separate households rather than in colonies after settling on the American prairies. At the time of immigration the Prairieleut amounted to around 2/3 of the Hutterite immigrants. Most of the Prairieleut eventually united with the Mennonites.
Since 1992, the Schmiedeleut, until that point the largest of the three "leut," have been divided into "Group One" and "Group Two" factions over controversies including the Arnoldleut/Bruderhof issue and the leadership of the Schmiedeleut elder. This highly acrimonious division has cut across family lines and remains a serious matter almost two decades later. Group One colonies generally have relatively more liberal positions on issues including higher education, ecumenical and missions work, musical instruments, media, and technology.
Alberta Hutterites initially won the right not to have their photographs taken for their drivers' licenses. In May 2007, the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled that the photograph requirement violates their religious rights and that driving was essential to their way of life. The Wilson Colony based its position on the belief that images are prohibited by the Second Commandment. About eighty of the photo-less licenses were in use at the time of the decision. Besides the Alberta Hutterite groups (Darius and Lehrerleut), a handful of colonies in Manitoba (Schmiedeleut) do not wish their members to be photographed for licenses or other identity documents.
However, in July 2009, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled 4–3 (in Alberta v. Hutterian Brethren of Wilson Colony) that a Hutterite community must abide by provincial rules that make a digital photo mandatory for all new driver's licences as a way to prevent identity theft.
Despite this animosity towards photography, there are photographs of Hutterites which were evidently done with their consent and co-operation. In particular, from 1972–1980, Chicago photographer Mary Koga went to rural Alberta to work on her series The Hutterites. Her images show the members of the community with great openness, sympathy and a touch of humor.
In contrast to the plain look of the Amish and Old Order Mennonites, Hutterite clothing can be vividly coloured, especially on children. Most of the clothing is homemade within the colony. Shoes were homemade in the past but are now mostly store-bought.
Men's jackets and pants are usually black. Generally the men's shirts are button-up shirts with long sleeves and collars, and they may wear undershirts. Men's pants are not held in place by belts, but rather by black suspenders. These pants are also distinctive by their lack of back pockets.
Women and girls wear a dress with a blouse underneath. Most Lehrerleut and Dariusleut also wear a kerchief-style head covering which is usually black with white polka dots. The Schmiedleut also wear a kerchief-style head cover, but without the dots. The polka dots tells which branch the women belong to. The larger the dot the more conservative, the smaller the more liberal. Young girls wear a bright, colorful cap that fastens under the chin.
Church garb is generally dark for both men and women. The clothing worn for church consists of a plain jacket for both genders and a black apron for women. Men's church hats are always dark and usually black.
Just as the Amish and Old Order Mennonites often use Pennsylvania German, the Hutterites have preserved and use among themselves a distinct dialect of German known as Hutterite German, or Hutterisch. Originally based on a Tyrolean dialect from the south-central German-speaking Europe from which they sprang in the 16th century, Hutterisch has taken on a Carinthian base because of their migratory history. In the years 1760–1763, the Hutterites were joined by a large group of Lutherans who spoke a Carinthian dialect. Eventually, this led to the replacement of the Hutterites’ Tyrolean dialect with the Carinthian dialect. The Amish and Hutterite German dialects are not generally mutually intelligible because the dialects originate from regions that are several hundred kilometers apart. In their religious exercises, Hutterites use a classic Lutheran German.
The very high birth rate among the Hutterites has decreased since 1950. Hutterite fertility rates remain high, though they have dropped from around ten children per family in 1954 to under five today (2010).
In the courts
As part of their Anabaptist teachings of nonrestistance, Hutterites have historically avoided getting involved in litigation within the secular justice system. One of the early founders of the Hutterites, Peter Riedemann, wrote about the Hutterite's stand on going to court in Peter Riedemann's Hutterite Confession of Faith: "Christ shows that Christians may not go to court when he says, 'If anyone will sue you and take away your coat, let him have your cloak also.' In effect Jesus is saying, 'It is better to let people take everything than to quarrel with them and find yourself in a strange court.' Christ wants us to show that we seek what is heavenly and belongs to us, and not what is temporal or alien to us. Thus, it is evident that a Christian can neither go to court nor be a judge."
Consistent with their beliefs, records do not indicate any litigation initiated by the Hutterites up to the twentieth century. However, in their more recent history in North America some Hutterite conflicts have emerged in court litigations. Several cases involved the Hutterite Colony defending their religious lifestyle against the government. This includes the recent conflict over photographs on driver's licenses in Alberta v Hutterian Brethren of Wilson Colony. Another recent case in the United States, Big Sky Colony Inc. v. Montana Department of Labor and Industry, forced the Hutterites to participate in the state's workers compensation system despite the Hutterites religious objections.
The willingness of the colonies to take matters to secular courts has also resulted in internal religious disputes being brought before the court. Two of these cases have come by appeal before the Supreme Court of Canada: Hofer v. Hofer (1970) and Lakeside Colony of Hutterian Brethren v. Hofer (1992). Hofer v. Hofer involved several expelled members of the Interlake Colony in Manitoba who sought a share of the communal property. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that according to the religious tenets of the Hutterites the Hutterites have no individual property and therefore the former members cannot be entitled to a share of the Hutterite colony goods. In the case of Lakeside Colony of Hutterian Brethren v. Hofer, Daniel Hofer Sr. of Lakeside Colony challenged the right of the Hutterian Brethren Church to expel him and other members. The igniting issue focused on who owned the rights to a patented hog feeder. The Board of Managers of the Colony had ruled that Hofer did not own the patent of the hog feeder in question and should stop producing the item. Hofer refused to submit to what he considered an injustice and also refused to obey the colony's order of expulsion. In response Jacob Kleinsasser of Crystal Spring Colony, elder of the Schmiedleut group of Hutterites, tried to use the state to enforce the expulsion order. Daniel Hofer Sr. initially lost the case. Hofer also lost his first appeal but finally won on an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada who overturned the expulsion. The outcome of these two cases has strongly influenced the outcome of similar cases in Canada. When some members of The Nine sued their former colony in Manitoba in 2008 over lost wages and injuries the case was never even heard in court.
In the United States judges have repeatedly dismissed cases that were brought against the colony by colony members or former members. Such cases include Wollma, et al. v. Poinsett Hutterian Brethren, Inc. (1994) in South Dakota, and Eli Wollman, Sr., et all. v. Ayers Ranch Colony (2001) in Montana. More recently in North Dakota, a case was brought by some of The Nine (authors) against Forest River Colony and was again dismissed by a judge in March 2010, ruling that the courts did not have subject matter jurisdiction over the case.
The mid-2004 location and number of the world's 483 Hutterite colonies:
- Canada (347)
- United States (134)
- Japan (1)
- Dariusleut (1)
- Nigeria (1)
- Schmiedeleut (1)
The Japanese Hutterite community does not consist of Hutterites of European descent, but ethnic Japanese who have adopted the same way of life and are recognized as an official colony. The inhabitants of this colony speak neither English nor German.
In similar fashion, a "neo-" Hutterite group, called the Bruderhof, was founded in Germany in 1920 by Eberhard Arnold. Arnold forged links with the North American Hutterites in the 1930s, continuing until 1990 when the Bruderhof were excommunicated because of a number of religious and social differences.
Elmendorf Christian Community, founded in 2005, is a Christian community of Hutterite tradition, that is much more open to outsiders, so-called seekers, than other Hutterite communities.
Depiction in media
Kung Fu "The Hoots" (December 13, 1973) is an episode where the sheepherder members of a Hutterite religious sect offer no resistance to persecution by bigoted cattlemen ... until they learn from Kwai Chang Caine that, like the chameleon, they can change and yet remain the same in the American Southwest.
"The Hutterites" was a 27:56 min documentary filmed by Colin Law in 1964 with the following synopsis: "The followers of religious leader Jacob Hutter live in farm communities, devoutly holding to the rules their founder laid down four centuries ago. Through the kindness of a Hutterite colony in Alberta, this film, in black and white, was made inside the community and shows all aspects of the Hutterites' daily life."
On May 29, 2012, the first episode of American Colony: Meet the Hutterites aired on the National Geographic Channel. Filmed primarily at King Ranch Colony near Lewistown, Montana, with Jeff Collins as executive producer, the colony was paid $100,000 for permission to produce a documentary of Hutterite life. Immediately after the first airing, many Hutterites began to complain that the show did not represent a true picture of typical colony life and ended up being a reality show or "soap opera" rather than a documentary. Some of the Hutterite cast later said that some of the scenes were scripted and that they were not aware of how the final version would portray the Hutterites. Jeff Collins stated that he believes King Colony members were coerced to write retractions, under threat of excommunication from Hutterite leaders. Colony leaders from King Ranch Colony wrote a letter to the National Geographic Society asking for an apology and that the show be discontinued, citing a false portrayal of Hutterites and a "breach of contract and defamation of our life and our character" as the reason. In 2013, How to Get to Heaven with the Hutterites was broadcast on BBC2 and looked at the lives of the people within the community.
Another notable film about the Hutterites is The Valley of All Utopias (2012), a documentary about a Hutterite colony in Saskatchewan directed by Thomas Risch.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hutterites.|
- Anabaptist Museum, Austria
- Christian anarchism
- Commune (intentional community)
- Elmendorf Christian Community, an independent Hutterite Colony
- Peace church
- Peter Riedemann
- Plain people
- Simple living
- Walter v. Attorney General of Alberta
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