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Hutterites

The Hutterian Brethren (commonly called Hutterites) are named after Jakob Hutter, an Anabaptist leader in Moravia (part of what is now the Czech Republic) during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. Hutterites are pietist Christians believing in adult baptism and pacifism, as do other Anabaptists such as the Mennonites, the Amish, and the Brethren in Christ; yet they also follow biblical texts enjoining strict community of goods. They follow Peter Rideman’s Confession of Faith (c. 1540–44) to refuse political office, bear weapons, take oaths, pay taxes for military purposes, and insist on austerity in life and conduct. Such beliefs were contrary to government demands and brought the Hutterites to leave Moravia for Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, and finally, in the 19th century, the United States and Canada. There are now twice as many Hutterites in Canada as in the United States, partly because Canada was more tolerant and receptive to Hutterite ideas of co-operation and pacifism, and more eager to obtain agricultural settlers for Canada’s Prairies.

Hutterites have maintained their German dialect as well as vestiges of Reformation dress (black clothes for men, and polka-dotted kerchiefs and ankle-length dresses for women); and they practise egalitarianism, division of labour based on gender, endogamy, patriarchy, and self-government through the vote of all baptized men. They function therefore as an ethnic group as well as a sectarian branch of what is called “Radical Christianity.” Prompted to leave Alberta by laws restricting new colonies and imposing obstacles to land purchases, the first colonists arrived in Saskatchewan in 1949 and the first stable colony was established in 1952. Similar legal problems in South Dakota brought in further colonies, although many of these had their origins in Alberta, too. The colonies were at first founded about 50 km apart in southwestern Saskatchewan—close enough to maintain communications, yet far enough to avoid complaints from non-Hutterites, since the Hutterites’ refusal to assume any political responsibility or positions could become a problem for local government. (Rarely do Hutterites even participate in elections.)

When colonies began arriving in Saskatchewan, the provincial government established in Regina a committee that Hutterites were to consult to help them find land in a district where local reaction would be favourable and, later, where Hutterite Colonies were not already numerous. With better Transportation, recent colonies are on average situated between 100 and 300 km apart. Hutterites have adapted 16th-century communal principles to become highly rational entrepreneurs using successful co-operative agricultural management and economies of scale to survive the semi-arid challenges of prairie Farming. Such success has sometimes created resentment among non-Hutterite farmers, as Hutterites can outbid small holders for land and survive difficult years without claiming government assistance or joining with non-Hutterites in other co-operative ventures. They see themselves as a model Christian community, keep aloof from the rest of the world, and do not proselytize except by personal example.

Three Hutterite branches now exist in North America—Dariusleut, Lehrerleut, and Schmiedenleut—differing in minor externals such as dress, and in their degree of acceptance of modern technology; yet these three groups agree fundamentally and recognize each other as fully Christian brethren, although marriage across branches is rarely practised. Of the fifty-four colonies registered in 1993, Saskatchewan is home to two branches: the Dariusleut (28 colonies) and the Lehrerleut (26). Eight colonies were established in the 1950s, and since then on average fifteen colonies have been established every decade. A colony splits vertically when the population approaches 100 members, although there is a tendency to earlier fission, because much of Saskatchewan’s land cannot support larger colonies. From a low of forty-five to a high of 125 members, colonies are noticeably smaller than in the past, now only representing a few families each. Predominant family names are Entz, Hofer, Wipf, and Kleinsasser. Although Hutterites accept modern technology and have been known to establish manufacturing communes in the United States and Europe, Canadian Hutterites believe that agriculture is better for maintaining their lifestyle and beliefs. Southwest Saskatchewan has the majority of the colonies, although with time and colony fission more colonies have been established in farming municipalities farther north.

The distinctive communities appear as clusters of long buildings, often at a short distance from a main highway or road. They are constituted of row-houses, a German school and church, a large communal kitchen at the heart of the community yard, a laundry, a slaughterhouse, an electrical building, a waterworks building, shops, garages, barns, and grain bins. Most are incorporated under the Non-profit Corporations Acts. In 1993, about 5,000 Hutterites in 900 nuclear families occupied over half a million acres of land. They presently own over 2% of all agricultural land while representing 0.5% of Saskatchewan’s total population. Since their population and their land are in rural municipalities, their importance to Saskatchewan’s rural life is growing steadily.

Paul Laverdure

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