'I Am Hutterite' by Mary-Ann Kirkby sheds light on modern Hutterite culture

Mechele R. Dillard's picture

Meet the Hutterites fans may find a measure of reality in author Mary-Ann Kirkby's hard-fought journey to reclaim her heritage in I Am Hutterite (Thomas Nelson, 2010).

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
ISBN: 978-0-8499-4810-7
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

Comments

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
Mary Ann: an expert on Hutterite life?? The Dorn family left a Hutterite colony when Mary Ann was 10 years old. Mary Ann authored a book about her parents’ story while in the colony and her own brief 10 year experience as a Hutterite and her struggle to adapt to the outside world. She claims to be qualified expert and authority on Hutterite life. After I read her book and personally experienced life as a Hutterite for 22 years my question begs an answer of truthful honesty before the Lord? “Is it possible Mary Ann could feasibly know what it’s like to be a Hutterite when her meager basis and foundation is limited to only 10 years?” A child’s perspective differs greatly from that of a mature adult. A 10 year old child is not equipped or able to adequately accept the natural responsibility of an adult. It has been proven to be advantageous that a child would thrive in a generally carefree life surrounded by boundaries of loving disciplines. At age 15 a Hutterite is considered an adult. At that point Maryann would have been thrust into a burdensome environment heavily centered around work with little time left for personal, emotional, and physical development in God’s purpose for her life. She would have begun to experience the pressure to conform, the restrictions on personality, and the general injustice and negative atmosphere. Mary Ann’s written account of her parent’s experiences is monumental proof of that. Her parents were used, treated unfairly, and oppressed by the leadership in the colony. According to Mary Ann’s own admission one of her immediate family members died due the Hutterite leader stubbornly forbidding her parents from going to the hospital and signing papers to save the child’s life. Why does she overtly contradict her parent’s struggles by fantasizing about her seemingly wonderful experience as a child to reach the false conclusion that the Hutterite colony is a safe place and a beautiful way of life? It may seem quite obvious, but is she trying to financially capitalize on people’s ignorance? The general populous has been purposely kept in the dark of the inner workings within a Hutterite Colony. For those who have never known of the Hutterites it is high time to make known the Hutterite’s true motives. For those who have heard and would take interest let it be known that the Hutterites grossly misrepresent themselves as zealous followers of Jesus Christ. I have to wonder: “If Hutterite life is so grand, then why isn’t Mary Ann living in a Hutterite Colony today?” Is it that she doesn’t want to give up her God-given freedoms she enjoys to go under the oppressive lifestyle that her parents left? The title of her book is “I am Hutterite”. What does that mean to her? Does she have her own vehicle or vehicles and have her own house? Does she have a career of her own choice? Does she make her own personal money and get to spend it the way she wants? Does she raise her child the way she desires? If she does these things then she is not a Hutterite! Does her fantasy colony demand that she butcher chickens? Does she wear a homemade dress and headcovering? Does she go to a Hutterite church every day? Does she speak hutterish fluently? Was she baptized as a Hutterite? Did she marry an “English man”? Does she have her own bank account? Did the Hutterites give her permission to write a book and do the proceeds for the sale of her book go to her Hutterite colony? If she would be permitted to join a Hutterite colony she would be stripped of all her rights and freedoms. Yet she turns around and tells us to live as a Hutterite is positive. That’s easy to say when you are enjoying your freedoms and ignoring the people that are still stuck inside with no other option but to continue in that lifestyle. Go back to the colony Mary Ann; live there for a few years (if you can take it that long) and then I would definitely read your next book, “I am not Hutterite”. I most certainly will not condone the first book as written in truth. As far as I know the stories are not in error but the conclusions drawn from the book are fallacy. I will pray for you and that the second book “I am not Hutterite” would shine the light to people in darkness and God would use you as a deliverer.

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