The opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Winter Olympics will be held on February 12, and the Olympic torch is on its way across Canada. A report on a Canadian TV website last week highlighted the interest—and lack of interest—among Hutterites along the torch route.
Hutterite colonies apparently are taking different approaches to the sports event. Few if any of the colonies permit televisions, so most Hutterites will not be able to directly watch the games. Some of the more conservative groups feel that the much-hyped travel of the torch violates their cultural and religious beliefs, while others feel that a measure of interest is permissible.
Last week, the torch passed through the Manitoba town of Neepawa, 180 km west of Winnipeg. The eight nearby Hutterite colonies debated whether to allow their members to gather in town and cheer on the torch, as so many other citizens of Canada have been doing. Four decided they would, and four refused to be bothered.
Ben Gross, a member of the Westroc Colony, expressed a negative attitude. “We don’t participate in that sort of thing,” he said. “Our beliefs don’t allow it.” He admitted that other colonies are more liberal than his.
One of the more liberal groups, the Springhill Hutterite Colony, not only attended but it allowed the colony choir to sing a couple of their traditional songs at the event. Warren Wollmann from Springhill explained that he initially turned down a request from the Olympics organizing committee that the colony should become involved. He couldn’t see any connection between the sacred songs of his people and a secular, commercial event such as the passing of the Olympic torch. But the committee was able to change his mind, and convince him that the Olympics and the Hutterites had similar ideals: beliefs in peace and hard work.
“In some ways the Olympics shows the best of the human spirit, which makes it a great teachable moment in so many ways,” he said. “It’s also an opportunity for people to learn about us. There are many misconceptions about Hutterite people.”
A teacher in the colony, Mr. Wollmann has used the Olympics in various ways to help teach social studies, math, and physical education in the school. He admitted that the colony is following the path of the torch online, which helps him incorporate the Olympics into the school lessons. “The world is changing. We can’t be left behind. Some people think our children have blinders on, that they’re shut out from the outside world. Here, at least, that’s really not the case.”
A photo accompanying the story shows a group of eight Hutterite women, dressed in heavy black coats against the bitter weather, standing on the street of Neepawa waving banners and cheering wildly for the torch—and for Canada.
Of course, not all Canadians support the Olympics, though many do. Protesters have lined parade routes in major cities, and while they have generally been peaceful, a few scuffles have occurred. Many opponents have accused government agencies of trampling on the rights of the First Nations, on some of whose territories a portion of the Olympic events will take place. Opponents also decry the costs, the disruptions, and the problems the events will cause the Vancouver region.