FAQs about Hutterites

Paul Wipf’s presentation during FarmTech included taking questions from the audience. This is how the farm manager of the Viking Colony near Viking, Alta., answered them.

Q: Is it possible to become a Hutterite if you’re not born one?

A: Some people have joined the colony but left after a few years. While the colony has made some changes, it’s often difficult for outsiders to make the transition.

“Believe me, it’s a life of submission,” Wipf said.

“It’s a life of tolerance. It’s a life of forgiving. I can speak from experience. To live in a colony is not a honeymoon. If you are not led by the Holy Spirit, to live in the colony can be a burden.”

Q: Do Hutterites pay taxes?

A: Hutterites lost their religious tax exemption status in 1961. Colonies pay taxes on net income divided by the number of colony workers older than 18. They do not collect premiums for the Canada Pension Plan or social assistance.

Reg Shandro, an accountant who works with Hutterite colonies, said like all farmers, colonies are able to “massage” their taxes bill. New colonies with plenty of bills and little income don’t pay much tax, but mature colonies pay a lot of tax.

Q: Do Hutterites bring in new blood to prevent inbreeding?

A: “This is a myth. Young men, forget it,” he said.

“This myth is a lie and it was probably started by someone who has a problem with his or her own life and saw it as an opportunity to be someone for a short time. When challenged to prove it, no one has ever been able to come up with any concrete evidence. The myth is even more absurd when you think how Hutterites view sexual relations. According to Hutterite doctrine, sex outside marriage is a horrific sin.”

Q: How does a colony divide?

A: A colony divides once its population reaches 120, or when it can financially afford to divide. The colony usually has two ministers, and members negotiate to decide who follows which minister. They either draw lots or reach a consensus to decide which group moves. Accountants are hired to divide the assets. The mother colony helps nurture the daughter colony.

Q: Can Hutterites divorce?

A: No.

“We say given time and some counselling and being forgiving and tolerant and learning to forgive, it can work. We’ve found in situations like this people forgive each other and life goes on and we can make it work.” Hutterites can remarry if their spouse dies.

Q: Do Hutterites take vacations?

A: When women are married they move to their husband’s colony. Each year they receive four weeks holiday. Usually the holiday is to other colonies to visit family and friends. Traditionally Hutterites have not travelled much to tourist destinations, but more are taking weekend trips to nearby tourist spots.

“Mostly they want to visit their relatives.”

Women who give birth receive 13 weeks maternity leave and are exempt from their assigned duties. A mother or other relative can also take four weeks from work to help the new mother.

Q: Do Hutterites leave the colony?

A: Wipf said Hutterite teenagers are no different than teens from the city or other farms, and sometimes they leave home.

“Too many times when young children go through the hormonal rages and changes, they fantasize about leaving, and our children aren’t exempt from that.”

Many young men left the colony to work in the oil industry when it was booming. Wipf said they were in great demand because of their good work ethic and skills.

“We as parents, we love our children more than anybody else in this world, and they are free to come back at any time.”