Another View of “American Colony”

Written by: Mark Waldner on Friday, June 1st, 2012

On May 29th, the first of ten episodes of “American Colony: Meet the Hutterites” aired on National Geographic Channel. A film crew spent months filming the King Ranch Hutterite Colony from the Dariusleut branch of Hutterites near Lewistown, Montana.

The online video clips and the episodes are interesting and entertaining, not only for the regular audience of National Geographic, but also for many of the 49 000 Hutterites who live on colonies scattered throughout the plains in the USA and Canada. The trailers, deleted scenes and photos posted on the website show salient snapshots of life inside the King Colony, appearing to represent an authentic view of life inside this particular colony, warts and all.

Although, the film shows realistic scenes of colony life, many Hutterites especially among the Dariusleut feel offended by the series for various reasons. Many feel that King Colony is not representative of the average Darius colonies.

For example, almost no Hutterites send their students to school outside their community. Invariably students attend school on the colony where they are instructed by qualified teachers. High school, where it is made available, is either offered on the colony or via distance education. Hutterites don’t send their children to outside schools, because they are deeply concerned about the worldly influences to which their children would be exposed. The film, however, shows students attending local public schools against the wishes of the elders, and the problematic worldly influence is clearly portrayed by the younger characters in American Colony.

Another major issue relates to dating non-Hutterites as shown in some of the trailers. Although one of the trailers in American Colony portrays as normal or acceptable for community members to date outside the fold, it would be seen as scandalous if this happened in almost any other colony. Such actions are directly contrary to Hutterite faith and practice where a premium is placed on personal purity and courtship must exemplify Christian communal values. Hutterites in good standing with the church will court only other Hutterites, in most cases from other colonies, but never from off the colony.

The primary concern regarding American Colony as expressed by the larger Hutterite community is spiritual in nature, an expression which the National Geographic series appears to omit. Hutterite life is rooted in faith in God, the teachings of Christ and Anabaptist traditions. When life is examined outside the lens of faith, Hutterite communal living appears oppressive and restrictive; those who resist are viewed as heroic. This is evident in the ‘them vs. us’ attitude towards leadership by several characters. Many Dariusleut and other Hutterites feel that spirituality should have been front and centre, since our whole raison d’être ought to be to serve God and our fellow man. Of course, Hutterites are human beings with all the failings that are associated with being human. As such, many vices do come up and need to be dealt with according to Biblical and traditional values. Still, it would have been paramount in the view of Hutterites to include, prominently, the spiritual component in any documentary.

Many of the things you see in the series, such as the rough language by some members, drinking, cursing, defiance by students and others, wearing make-up, and so forth, are all issues that many colonies deal with. Most colonies take those issues seriously and encourage their young people to avoid these issues, humble themselves, and participate in the colony as part of a Christian team.

Living in Christian community does not eliminate our humanness and thankfully it appears that various members of King Ranch Colony are attempting to deal with some of these issues too, as they well should be.

We have no desire to sit in judgement of any person or the King Ranch Community, but we feel compelled to express our disappointment regarding American Colony. We acknowledge that all Hutterites are imperfect human beings and constantly strive to address some of our failings. Yet the depiction of King Ranch must not be taken to represent a typical Hutterite Colony.

Hutterite and non-Hutterite viewers will find the series to be entertaining and interesting, yet lacking in the essence of what it means to be a true Christian Hutterite. For viewers who are following this particular series, please recognize that it represents the scripted experiences of one particular colony. King Ranch Colony, while sharing many cultural traditions with other Hutterite colonies, ultimately represents only King Ranch Colony and its members as seen through the eyes of the National Geographic American Colony directors.

 

Thanks to Kenny Wollmann and several Dariusleut friends who offered suggestions and additions to this response.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Showing 167 comments

Tom said:reply

As a German Catholic I found the show to be interesting. I realize that everything one sees on tv should be taken with a grain of salt and that most shows are not very realistic but I still like the premise behind the show. If you can look past the obvious things that would not perhaps happen in a Hutterite Colony, the show at least puts a human face on a bit of colony life. It provides us a small window into a bit of daily life and gives us information on what colony living is like albeit probably minimal. I think it could be more realistic and perhaps more relevant but perhaps that is how the King Colony goes about their business. I would like to see more true to life daily happenings but I am sure if they show started to relate to anything religious the anti-christian zealots of the US would sue National Geographic for something. I, myself applaud the Hutterite colonies and any other religious sect for being true to themselves and their faith. Perhaps if more faith were used in this world, our own country would not be in the shape it is in. Maybe I should have been born to you sect but since I was not I can only hope that you will continue to keep your teachings true and your faith strong. I will continue to watch because I simply like the show.

Sheri said:reply

While I find the program fascinating, I am disheartened by the language, drinking and general behavior of the colony members, especially the men. I also find it insulting that the Hutterites, Amish and other such “colonies” think that we “English” don’t know God and cannot get into Heaven. Anyone, and I mean anyone, can be a Christian. You do NOT have to belong to a elite group for God to love you and bless you with his saving grace. It is very possible to live in the “English” world and not do drugs, not drink, not have sex until marriage, etc. All it takes is faith and some self-control. Young people, like Claudia, are perfectly capable of dealing with outside influences if their faith is strong enough. God created a beautiful, amazing and wonderous world for us to enjoy. To demand that someone, just because of where they were born, does not have the right to explore that world is a travesty against God and our God-given right to choose our own course in life. People should stay in the colony, if that is what they truly choose, but they should have the right to leave, if that is the course they need to take.

Maureen Brady said:reply

Although it does obviously have many of the faults you mention, I am appreciative to learn even a little of the Hutterite lifestyle. I am a Catholic by conversion. Going through the required education required to become Catholic made me aware of so many misconceptions of my adopted faith. You would think after 2000 years of Catholicism the world would have a clearer picture of us but, as with you, those that are not interested will cling to myths instead of seeking truth. I appreciate your views and also the opportunity that NG provided to learn just a little about your faith. Thank you.

jas. treadway said:reply

This comment is directed to Wesley Hofer, in connection with the Hutterites’ presentation to a group at Great Falls University.

One thing you did not talk about is the importance of Hutterites to the economy of Montana. I understand that Hutterites account for 50% of the pork, beef, and poultry production of the state of Montana. If Mr. Hofer wants to show how Hutterites function in the “outside” world, if he talked about these figures and the impact Hutterites have on the state (every other day the average Montana resident eats food produced by the Hutterites) , I think the non-Hutterites who attend these Hutterite presentations would be stunned. The Hutterites are not some isolated, backward cult — far from it. They are a vibrant, productive — and very interesting and nice —-group that functions well, contributes greatly to the Montana economy, and has a great story to tell to “outsiders.

Is there a way to obtain Mr. Hofer’s email address?

Jas. Treadway, yellowlab2@me.com

Knuckles said:reply

The biggest misconception I had about the Hutterites was thinking that they lived to glorify God and follow His will. Well, that’s been cleared up.

Roman said:reply

No many people will agree with me but I believe the show is a more ‘accurate’ view on how Hutterites live now a days, of course there are certain misconceptions; for example, Hutterites will never date non Hutterites; and a few others like competitions and then handing out money. Some people had issues because they said King Colony has excessive drinking, swearing, etc…Well, over time hutterites changed and for the most its, it wasn’t for the better. Of course you still have your hutterites that are believing and doing everything right, but the younger generation has changed somewhat. It’s a good entertaining show, and more truth into how darius colonies live. They could have removed some certain things that were a bit offended but for the most part, its not that far off from how some hutterites live.

Deanna said:reply

I assume the film crews were not allowed inside the churches during services, and that’s why there isn’t as much of an emphasis on the religion, but they make it clear that their faith is the driving force behind their way of life. Personally, I found it refreshing that they swore a bit, and drank beer, and occasionally rebelled against some of the stricter traditions. They are REAL people! They are facing life in the 21st century just like the rest of us, but in their very own way. I have grown quite fond of the show, and the people– I can see how never having to worry about loans, credit cards, debt, etc. and just focusing on a simple life has its appeal. Thanks to NatGeo for opening the door, and to King Colony for being brave enough to let us in.

Kathleen Johnson said:reply

I was wondering if anyone had the recipe for egg patties as seen on Meet the Hutterites?
They look so delicious and I can’t find a recipe anywhere on the internet even remotely like them.

Dana said:reply

I love this series and applaud King Colony for allowing a peek into their lives. Although the media is famous for skewing what is filmed through editing, scripting, etc. I think the average Christian person can read between the lines and sort out the truth. These are hardworking, God fearing, honest people who are dealing with human problems like everyone else. I wish I could meet them in person!

penny said:reply

I love this T.V. series My sister and I can hardly wait to watch it every week. I find their way of life very appealing. Claudia should be careful for what she wishes for. She has a wonderful life . There is nothing like the friend ship and true love they have for one and another. It would it be nice if the whole world could work like that. I think it is their faith in God that makes it work

Randy said:reply

I would think that more of the Christian values that the Hutterites hold to would be brought forth to try to deal with some of the problems I saw them having. I am not Hutterite, but have been around and in strict Pentecostal church. I know that when the women there are not allowed to wear makeup or pants, they are quick to let others know that it is God that they do this for. When they start to slip away and do things they should not do, they are reminded of this. The lack of respect for the elders, the seeming disregard for the beliefs they are supposed to hold to, the cussing, drinking, and individual pridefullness is concerning. They seem to have such a deep concern for how others view them and more of a lack of concern for their beliefs and how God would view them. I think they are also being more reactive in many situations, rather than proactive. I only watched one show, but it seems that they are trying to find some projects to do at the last minute for money to pay bills. They should have lumber for the beds on hand for making the beds if that is what they do for money. I think that the premise of living as a colony and sharing in the work is a good thing. It would allow for being far more self sufficient than what I saw there. Different families doing different things for the common good. There should be little outside the colony that is needed that cannot be produced.

joseph specht said:reply

I believe,that the show was like all types of media put revenue and hype first.They are willing to sacrifice the reputation of Christians to undermine their credibility.

CWL said:reply

I have read the letter to the producers and National Geographic and the 20 letters from members of the King Colony that were included, many from the main participants in the series.

I have watched the show, I assumed from the beginning it was a reality type show and that some dramatization for ratings sake would be done, but self admitted out and out staging and LIES?

Showing family situations that the members said could lead to shunning / banning. A staging of a heart attack?

These cross the lines, quite simply, all of it was done for the cash and I find the pretense of a deeply religious community to be laughable. To my mind, just another hypocritical Christian sect, just that simple.

Natinka said:reply

Let me begin by sharing that I am not a Hutterite. I was very disappointed in the show on NatGeo because I thought I would be able to learn more about Hutterites as a people and a faith. Other shows (about the Amish and Mennonites) I believe enabled those of us who have never had any contact to understand and appreciate these various faith based societies.
I wish there had been less of a focus on one particular girl and other young family members. We have rebellious teenagers who disrespect their elders out here in spades…it is not shocking for us. As a matter of fact, I was horrified by her immature behavior. I have a teenage girl (she is my eldest) and she would not dare to be so defiant. I understand the family is in a vulnerable time due to the loss of the man of the house…I was uncomfortable with the assumption that I or any viewer had any right to watch their struggles. I wish Claudia could know that all those petty things which tempt her are worth less than ashes. There is no doubt that there is much in the World which is dangerous. My own children do not have phones with internet access and I closely monitor their internet activity. On the other hand, I found the loving relationships of brother Toby and Marvin with their respective wives so wonderful. I truly wish there had been more focus on the families who are thriving in the colony. It was very apparent that we the viewers were not given a fair chance to know the first thing about Hutterites. What a loss for us. I also hope to assure the Hutterite community in general that any adult who watched that show was able to recognize that certain individuals were “showing off” in ways other colony members were shocked by. It was obvious that some behaviors were triggered by an unfortunate mix of insecurity and the presence of a camera. Those few very young people would never be mistaken for the attitudes or actions of the colony as a whole.

Lynn said:reply

I only watched 1 episode of this program and was appalled, I am not a hutterite however the disrespect, fighting, swearing, betting and wanton attitude to material gains was terrible. I had respect for hutterites but this show has destroyed that, I thought that the hutterite way of life stood for respect, caring, Christian values and sharing however the children in this show behave like street kids in different clothing. Some of the adults were no better, the Hutterite community should deal with this and their culture, which it appears they have lost.

Donna said:reply

I really enjoyed the hutterites will there be another show that will air

George Peters said:reply

This might the wrong place for what I’m asking, maybe you can point me in the right direction.For my 6th birthday I was given a violin-uke in 1953.I used to be able to play it with some sheet music that came it, but as the years went by the sheets dried out and disappeared as did the hair on the bow. I have looked for the New Troy Michigan Colony but have not been able to find them. If you could point me in the right direction I would greatly appreciate it. As I’m 66 years old now I would like to take up play this instrument again. I am retired and have the time this instrument deserves for me to start playing it again.Thank you in advance for your help in this matter. Yours Truly George Peters of Barrhead Alberta Canada.