I Am Hutterite: The Fascinating True Story of a Young Woman’s Journey to Reclaim Her Heritage
Author: Mary-Ann Kirkby
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Published: May 2010
Review Rating: 4 of 5 stars = Excellent
With the popularity of the National Geographic reality television show, Meet the Hutterites, the spotlight has been placed on Hutterite culture as never before. And, the Hutterite community as a whole has not been pleased with the results. The Bishops of the three Hutterite sects, in fact, came together in a press release to denounce the depiction of Hutterite life by National Geographic. Before presenting the release, the Bishops and Elders consulted with trusted Hutterite authority Mary-Ann Kirkby.
Mary-Ann Kirkby was born on a Canadian Hutterite colony near Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. Although raised in Hutterite tradition, her parents left the colony abruptly when she was only 10 years old, at which time she was forced to learn about and adapt to life in the “English” world, outside the safe boundaries of Hutterite life. To survive, Kirkby began denying her heritage, and simply tried to fit in with the new culture she did not understand, and get along with people who did not understand her.
I Am Hutterite is Kirkby’s first book, and is an attempt by Kirkby to embrace her role as the product of two cultures. When the Hutterite Bishops and Elders released their statement on the new reality TV show, Meet the Hutterites, and consulted with Kirkby in preparing the release, they also indicated that her book “is considered the definitive account of present-day Hutterite Life.”
Although the Hutterites are connected to the Amish and Mennonites, to whom they are often compared, by their Anabaptist roots, the Hutterites are a distinct people all their own. All members of colonies—approximately 45,000 Hutterites on 460 colonies in North America—have their own roles in this communal religious society and, although no one earns a monetary wage for their contributions, everyone is taken care of from birth to death. Hutterites embrace modern farm machinery and other modern conveniences, and do business in the “English” world on a regular basis. The roles of men and women are clearly defined, with women cooking, cleaning, baking and gardening, while men work in the fields, manage livestock, do construction, and generally oversee the colony. Children begin kindergarten at age 2 ½; attend a Hutterite school through 8th grade; at age 15, they begin an apprenticeship; and if they wish to get their GED, they must do it via correspondence, as they are not allowed to attend high schools off the colony.
Kirkby’s story follows her long journey to reclaim her Hutterite heritage in I Am Hutterite, and opens a window to Hutterite life for readers. And, although the journey can get a bit confusing in the telling at times—there is just a lot to follow and a lot of information to keep organized in one’s head while reading—I Am Hutterite does basically provide readers with a clear view of Hutterite life from the inside.
Kirkby: A Hutterite Living in English World
Today, Kirkby is an award-winning television reporter and, although she lives a life in the English world, she keeps close ties with her Hutterite roots, and visits her colony family often. “Today, I am filled with a deep appreciation of where I have come from and a better sense of where I am going,” she expresses in the book’s epilogue. “The Hutterite culture has defined me in many ways that can never be erased. In my heart, I will always remain a Hutterite.”
And, for viewers of the National Geographic reality TV show Meet the Hutterites, reading Mary-Ann Kirkby’s I Am Hutterite: The Fascinating True Story of a Young Woman’s Journey to Reclaim Her Heritage may provide a measure of clarity on issues that, on the small screen, may have become muddled for the sake of entertainment.
Image: Thomas Nelson