LETHBRIDGE - You see them around town, hard not to recognize them with their distinct way of dressing, but have you ever wondered about how hard it is for a Hutterite to leave their colony?
It's something that Dan Roy, CEO and founder of EnviroOrange, learned through his dealings with different colonies throughout the country over the last few years.
Roy, who is originally from B.C., says he left about three or four years ago to develop his EnviroOrange business.
"I was going to stores, like Co-Op, Napa, Home Hardware, and along the way I ended up in Biggar, Saskatchewan. One of the dealers there told me to go up and tell the Hutterites we carry your product. And I said, what's a Hutterite? Because we don't have them in B.C."
They ended up buying some product from Roy, who says they loved it and from there the Hutterites in Saskatchewan started shipping it to other colonies in pop bottles.
"It turned into like a phenomenon, they were buying it in pallets and I ended up selling the rights to someone who left the colony, but their family was looking after the EnviroOrange from the colony," he continued. "I gave my approval, no problem, and everything was fine for a few years but about five or six months ago they decided to break the contract and start HutteriteOrange."
Roy says it angered him that they had stolen his idea, but it wasn't just that, they sent out a fax to every colony in Canada saying how bad of a guy he was.
"Not only did they send out a fax saying I was bad, but they also said make sure to pick up our HutteriteOrange and then the next page was the price list. And of course, it was for less money than what I had been selling my product for."
Roy had worked many years with Hutterite colonies and built solid relationships with them through the buying and selling of his products, but the move to blacklist him led him to wonder just what was going on behind the scenes.
"To be honest [helping Hutterites who wanted to leave the colony] had never really crossed my mind. I would go to the colonies almost every day, and I did that for like two years. But when that happened, that caused me to look a little closer with what I'm dealing with. I thought this was a Christian group, and the people that were selling EnviroOrange were part of the Bishop's family, one of the head guys.
"I assumed he would be credible and trustworthy, and I gave them a lot of slack. I didn't watch them with a microscope, I just kind of let them do their thing and everything was fine. When the fax went out, the colonies that knew me were saying we know what happened. It was pretty clear, they tried to destroy me to remove their competition and sell their new product to the other colonies. People from the colonies that knew me would text me, email me, and phone me with words of encouragement and say, 'we're still going to buy from you' and 'we can't believe they did that to you'," Roy explained.
A lot of them were telling Roy that he doesn't know what it's actually like to live there, despite how much time he had spent on various colonies.
"They would tell me I don't understand, that they'd like to help but didn't have a way to because they're only one voice. So, that caused me to really look further, and realize there is an issue with colonies."
That led Roy to take his passion for helping other people and start brainstorming.
"I guess I'm not the first person that's had a rough experience with them. The Hutterites on the colony would tell me they'd like to help and that they're embarrassed about what happened, but not to use their names. There was no board to go to, I tried talking to the bishop, and he wanted nothing to do with it. He said, 'oh that's too bad, oh well' and that's not good enough for me," Roy stated, adding if they can do that to him, what are they doing to the people of the colony?
At that point, Roy decided he would open the Colony to Society Association to help Hutterites, who wanted to, leave their colonies smoothly with the support of the community.
"Right now, I'm reaching out to media to try and get my concerns out there, I'm also running some Facebook ads to try and engage people. I'm going to do a fundraiser soon, selling flashlights, because it's time to shed some light on the Hutterite."
He still has his EnviroOrange business, but it's automated, with a logistics company looking after orders.
"Some Hutterites are literally going to stores on my website and saying that if they carry my product, and don't carry theirs, that they're not going to shop there anymore. They're in a full-on assault against me right now."
"I really put myself out there, I could've just continued on and kept selling to colonies who liked me and were taking my side, but I can see there's a real need for this type of thing. The more I've been getting out there, I've been getting calls from people saying 'we love what you're doing'. They work their whole life for nothing, and if they do leave, some colonies will shame your family. To me, that's a cult."
The Colony to Society Association will allow Hutterites who want to leave, whether they're not happy with life or just want to transition to the outside, to do it smoothly.
For Hutterites contemplating leaving their colony, they have to do so with nothing but the clothes on their back.
"Let's say you're 50 years old and you've lived in the colony your whole life, you want to go downtown to see the dentist, well it's literally hat in hand to the leader of the colony 'please sir may I go downtown to the dentist'. These people control your food, your housing and any activity you do they have to know about it, that's a cult."
But Roy was careful with his words because not all colonies are like that.
"Some have a bit more freedom, some of the women have drivers' licenses, things like that. The more I've been researching this, I've talked to a few Hutterites who have told me that the way they're raised is to view the outside world as evil, and they're taught to have a level of disgust towards outsiders.
"They feel that they're all going to heaven and that what we're doing is all wrong. If it gets into the Christianity part of it, I don't know anywhere in the Bible where it says you have to be a Hutterite to go to heaven," said Roy.
Since launching his website, Roy has received around 200 e-mails in 10 days.
"I've talked to lots of ex-Hutterites, I've talked with photographer Kelly Hofer, he seems to be the most prominent one, and in talking to them and other people who have left the colony they've told me it would've been wonderful to have a service like this because it was so hard to leave. If you do leave, they will treat your family bad, because they have to set an example for everybody else," Roy stated.
Roy says he has had some Hutterites currently living on colonies reach out to him about leaving.
"But I also have to be careful here, because I don't want to just start taking Hutterites and then I can't do anything for them. So, it's one thing at a time. The ones who have responded or reached out, I've sent them a response back saying look I'm just getting started, I need a bit of time, hang in there."
The transition from colony to society will be designed to help Hutterites navigate through things starting with pickup at either the colony or a designated meeting point.
"I need to go where there's the most support. We want to facilitate them, we'll have councillors, and we'll have people in place to help them get work. The approach is going to be that we'll have a number on the website that says we can take 30 people now, so then we'll know with confidence that means if they come to the office we got a place for them to stay, they'll know how long the service will last for, we'll help them get a job, and we'll get them some social training," Roy explained.
Helping with education and finding work is among the most important parts the association will help with, as those two pieces tend to be the biggest for Hutterites trying to transition off the colony.
Roy also mentioned providing support groups for estranged Hutterites to be able to discuss their personal experiences and concerns about life on the colony as well as moving into society.
"It's not going to be that hard to do, it's just such a big project. I want to be 100 percent sure before anyone leaves the colony."
One might think this would be a place for various levels of government to offer support, but Roy says while he will be talking to people in government, and other governing boards that do this type of work, ideally, he'd like the association to be a self-sustaining non-profit.
"What I'm honestly thinking of doing is setting up my own place here in Lethbridge and rolling my EnviroOrange into that."
There was an immediate backlash from a number of colonies and high-ranking Hutterite leaders, on top of their attempts to impact his personal business, but Roy doesn't plan on backing down.
"The more I look into what's happening on some colonies, the more I think this is something that has to be done. Life isn't always about money, I was going to do a non-profit helping single parents anyways that was my plan, so I think this attack that they did to me was meant to happen."
Being from B.C., Roy never grew up around Hutterites as a kid, so he's not intimidated by them.
"The more I've heard from the community about how often they seem to just do what they want with impunity, and I guess it's because they have so much buying power with businesses. They feel because we're not one of them they can push us around and bully people, so I believe this had to happen to me because I'm not going to put up with that. I saw what is really going on at lots of colonies, and I guess I'm going to lead the charge here."
On Wednesday, Dec. 5, Roy said he will be moving to Lethbridge to get a location in the city to open an office, and the Colony to Society Association has been looking for volunteers and gauging public interest.
He's looking for people who would be willing to offer their time and effort to help get the programs off the ground, whether that's transporting people, offering job opportunities or any other way to help.
Roy says the reaction from people, especially in Lethbridge, encouraged him to move forward.
"I've heard from people that this is a huge issue, and good for you for taking it on, but there are also some people that are quite prejudiced against Hutterites."
After first posting the Colony to Society Page to Facebook, Roy had around 40 volunteers from Lethbridge in less than three days.
The prominence of colonies and Hutterites in the area played a roll in Roy choosing to start up here, as did the understanding of the issues from the people in the community.
"They're intimidated, it's almost like Stockholm Syndrome I would think, so you're forced to believe you love this wonderful life. But the Hutterites that do leave, they all seem to have the same sort of theme, it's like hell. You can't be an individual, on a lot of colonies you can't play musical instruments, if you have any sort of talent, they say that's too bad, go pluck the chickens. It's a very controlled, almost communist like environment," Roy said.
He's hopeful now that he's made the decision to come to Lethbridge, and through all the media activity so far, it's going to shed a big light.
"I think we're going to learn a lot on what really goes on there, and I hope we can help people."
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