Saskatchewan

Hutterite group urges colonies to follow COVID-19 guidelines, citing concerns about stigma

The Hutterian Safety Council is calling for colonies in Western Canada to be compliant with COVID-19 regulations in order to stave off the stigma many Hutterites are experiencing.

Council says the majority of Hutterites in Sask. are compliant with regulations

In a blog post, the Hutterian Safety Council addressed reports of Hutterites being denied access to stores and services. (Submitted by Dr. Janet Tapper)

The Hutterian Safety Council is calling for colonies in Western Canada to be compliant with COVID-19 regulations in order to stave off the stigma many Hutterites are experiencing. 

In a blog post on the Healthy Hutterite Communities website, the council addressed reports of Hutterites being denied access to stores and services.

"The question we need to ask is, 'What are a minority of our people doing that brings suffering like this upon the rest of us?' Such situations are a golden opportunity to be a light to the world and show mainstream society that we have many great people among us," the post said.

In June, Saskatchewan health officials said COVID-19 testing efforts had been met with resistance by a small number of people in Hutterite colonies following an outbreak in the southern part of the province. Health officials are dealing with a significant spike in COVID-19 cases now, including new cases in an unspecified number of Hutterite colonies.

David Tschetter, chair of the Huttarian Safety Council, said this has led to instances of stigma against Hutterites throughout the province.

"We've heard reports that the mentality is that every Hutterite now has COVID in a certain area of the province. And of course this is naive," Tschetter said. 

"While there may have been mistakes happening in the past that have led to this stigmatization, we can rise above it. And the message simply reminds us that the human connection between us is far more important than our cultural differences."

In the blog post, the council acknowledges that some Hutterites have reportedly not being compliant with COVID-19 regulations. 

"That makes it clear it's no wonder we are being treated in this way. This includes being untruthful, not only with public health authorities but also with family doctors and at other non-essential appointments," the blog post said. 

Tschetter said Hutterites behaving like this are in the minority.

"There's 50,000 Hutterites in Western Canada. And to think that each and every one will follow any protocol is like expecting every Canadian or every Albertan or Saskatchewanite that's not Hutterite to follow the protocols diligently," said Tschetter.

"It's not a cultural thing. The human nature of our existence is all over the map and our culture is no exception."

Tschetter said the pandemic has posed a particular challenge to Hutterites as they share kitchens, dining spaces and places of worship, but that communities have adapted to the challenge.

Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab says the Hutterian Safety Council has helped Saskatchewan combat the recent spread in communal living spaces. (Michael Bell/Canadian Press)

Working with the SHA

Saskatchewan health officials say they are being welcomed into communities after encountering some resistance during earlier efforts to contain the virus in two colonies last month.

Officials said previously reported infections in the province's southwest had stretched further into the region and into west-central Saskatchewan. Eleven municipalities were cited as the sites of new infections.

Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province's chief medical health officer, said dozens of those cases were specific to "communal living settings" and that the Hutterian Safety Council was helping Saskatchewan combat the recent spread.

A joint letter issued by the safety council and the Saskatchewan Health Authority at the time of that outbreak noted resistance to testing among some colony members, as well as "challenges getting some Hutterite communities to implement adequate COVID-19 protocols and to abide by the public health orders."

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated the blog post was leaked. In fact, it was on Healthy Hutterite Communities, a website intended to be only for Hutterites.
    Jul 21, 2020 9:05 AM CT

With files by Guy Quenneville

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