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, 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 totalling 1265 individuals migrated to North America between 1874 and 1879 in response to the new Russian military service law. Of these, 400 identified as Eigentümler 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.
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 tortured. Ultimately, two 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 communities, 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 or literally self-sufficient, constructing its own buildings, doing its own maintenance and repair on equipment, making its own clothes, etc.
The Secretary's wife sometimes holds the title of Schneider (from German "tailor"), 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 oversight over 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.
In spite of this hierarchical structure, the majority of colonies function in a very democratic manner. The Minister and 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 very powerful democratic culture in most colonies. For example, Ministers and Secretary's that do not follow the democratically selected decisions of a colony can be removed by a similar vote of a colony. Although there is a wide range of leadership cultures and styles between the three main colony vanes, and in some cases, very dominant ministers or secretarys may hold greater sway over some colonies than others, the general prevailing culture in most colonies is strongly democratic.
Although women and children hold no formal vote in decision-making power in a colony, they often hold significant influence on decision-making through the informal processes of a colony's social framework. It should not be assumed that Hutterite woman are passive and quiet about their views on matters of colony life. To the contrary, many Hutterite woman are strong, independent-minded individuals who find ways to voice their views and priorities through their husbands votes at council meetings.
Overarching all internal governance processes within a single colony is the broader "Bishop" structure of leaders from across a "branch" (Lehrer, Darius, or Schmeidluet) such that all colonies within each branch are subject to the broader decision-making of that branches "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. Meals are taken by the entire colony in a dining or fellowship room.
Each colony consists of about 10 to 20 families, with a population of around 60 to 150. When the colony's population grows near the upper figure and its leadership determines that branching off is economically and spiritually necessary, they locate, purchase land for, and build a "daughter" colony. When an intercolony marriage occurs, the bride goes to live in the groom's colony, where she will be treated to a wedding celebration.
The process whereby a Colony splits creating a new daughter colony varies across the Branches of Colonies. In Lehrerleut, the process is much more structured while in Darius and Schmeidluet the process can be somewhat less structured. For example in the Lehrerleut case, at the time of the split, 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, a decision process will be followed by the colony leadership to split 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 based on practical limits of family unit sizes in each group. In addition to splitting the people, the leadership must as evenly as possible split the business operations also. This means deciding which colony might take on either Hogs, or Dairy for example. There is a process allowed that gives colony members a chance to voice concerns about which group of two a family is assigned to, but at some point, a final decision is made as to which families belong in each of the two groups. This process has democratic aspects, but the net result is not negotiable, the colony is on course to be split. As might be imagined, this process can be very difficult and stressful for a colony as many political and family dynamics become matters that are discussed. Not everyone will be happy about the result of 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 to the "daughter" colony, there are two pieces of paper that are placed into a hat. On one piece of paper is something like "Group A" and the second piece says "Group B". The Minister will pray, seeking God's choice as to the piece of paper that is drawn from the hat, and proceed to draw one piece of paper. The name drawn will indicate which group is leaving to their new home at the Daughter colony location. The other group stays. Within 2 - 4 hours, the group that must move into their new home will fill a set of vehicles and drive to their new home. Within hours, the daughter colony inhabitants begin the process of settling a brand new colony site.
This very structured process varies dramatically from the process that might be used at some Darius and Schmeidleut colonies where the split can sometimes be staggered over time with only a small group of people leaving to the new location and the split/daughter group.
Often, colonies own large tracts of land and, since they function as a collective unit, can afford top-of-the-line farm implements. Some also run state-of-the-art hog, dairy, turkey, chicken, and egg production operations.
An increasing number of Hutterite colonies are again venturing into the manufacturing sector--reminiscent of the 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. Largely due to the increasing automation of farming (large equipment, GPS-controlled seeding, spraying, etc), farming operations are much more efficient and Hutterites are again looking to manufacturing to provide work for their people. Many of the colonies, who have gone into manufacturing, have realized that they need to provide their members with a higher level of education.
A major driving force for Hutterite leadership today is associated with recognizing that land prices have risen so dramatically in Alberta and Saskatchewan specifically driven by the oil and gas industry, which creates the need to have a greater amount of cash available to buy land when it comes time for a colony to split (see Daughter Colony in this Article). The spliting process for a colony 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/construction. This massive cash requirement now has forced leadership to re-evaluate how a colony can produce the levels of funds needed to support expansion.
New ideas of projects that Colonies have engaged in include: Plastics Manufacturing, Metal Fabrication, Cabinetry, Stone/granite forming just to name a few. Another unique project example came together in South Dakota. A group of 44 colonies joined together to create a Turkey Processing center where their poultry can be processed. The plant hired non-Hutterite staff to process the poultry for market. The plant secured demand for the colony Poultry.
Hutterites attempt to remove themselves from the outside world (televisions, radios, tapes, CD's, etc. are forbidden), and up until recently, many of the Lehrerleut and Dariusleut (Alberta) colonies still only have one central phone. The Schmiedeleut's 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 for 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. Some Hutterite homes have computers and radios; a minority of communities (mostly, liberal Schmiedleut colonies) have some filtered Internet access. Farming equipment technology generally matches or exceeds that of non-Hutterite farmers. Usally exeeding non-Hutterite farmes,especially temperature controlled grain bins and auto-matic feeders being controlled by use of cellular phone. Lehrerleut colonies have recently struggled with the proliferation of computers and have clamped down such 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.
Rather than send their children to an outside school, Hutterites build a schoolhouse onsite at the colony to fulfill a minimum educational agreement with the Province or State, which is typically run by an outside hired educator who teaches the basics including English. The "German" education of colony children is the responsibility of the "Assistant Minister" at most colonies. His job entails training in German language studies, Bible teaching, and scripture memorization. The Assistant Minister will cooperate with the outside teacher in relations to scheduling and planning.
Traditionally, Hutterite children have left school at 15 years of age (after they have completed Grade 8) to fulfill their adult roles in the colony. This practice is still strictly maintained by the Lehrerleut and most of the Dariusleut colonies. However, an increasing number of Hutterites, especially among the Schmiedeleut, have graduated from high school. In addition, some of these young people have then gone on to attend university; many become teachers for their colonies. Brandon University in Brandon, Manitoba, offers a Hutterite Education Program (BUHEP) to Hutterites who are willing to teach on Hutterite colonies. This program is only available to the Hutterite colonies on the less conservative side of the Schmiedleut split.
These are the three original branches of Hutterite Colonies:
Beyond these three major branches, there are many breakaway colonies today. Many are found in Montana where there might be 6 - 8 individual colonies or small clusters of colonie that are no longer part of the original branches.In Minnesota you will find a few colonies which are excommunicated because of returning to the basic teachings of Jesus Christ and the confession of faith of Peter Ridemann.
Alberta Hutterites won the right to avoid having their photograph 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 Springs colony based their 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 Lehreleut), a handful of colonies in Manitoba (Schmiedleut) do not wish their members to be photographed for licenses or other identity document.
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 due to 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 Hutterite's Tyrolean dialect with the Carinthian dialect. Partly as a result of this, the Amish and Hutterite German dialects are not generally mutually intelligible. In their religious exercises Hutterites use a classic Lutheran German.
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 was founded in Germany in 1920, called the Bruderhof, by Eberhard Arnold. Arnold had forged links with the North American Hutterites in the 1930s, continuing until 1990 when the Bruderhof were excommunicated due to a number of religious and social differences.