Hutterites fear stigma may resurface as Manitoba COVID-19 cases rise, province offers more details on cases


Hutterites in Manitoba fear that the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the province, combined with the more geographically specific information the province is now releasing, could lead to more scrutiny or even discrimination against specific colonies or Hutterites in general.Kenny Wollmann, who sits on the Hutterian Safety Council’s COVID-19 task force, said there had been an upsurge in stigma against the religious minority in Manitoba last month, when the province made the public aware of the outbreaks in Manitoba. the communities of Interlake.

According to the Hutterian Safety Council, which develops safety programs in Hutterite communities in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, Hutterites have been denied service at retail stores and physiotherapy and massage therapy clinics , and are confronted with people on the street.

After the province stopped noting when new cases were in Hutterite settlements, much of the stigma eased, says Wollmann, who is from Baker Colony, about 25 kilometers southwest of Portage. the meadow.

However, now that the number of cases in Manitoba is on the rise again and the province is providing more detailed information online about specific health districts that have active cases, he is concerned that things will change.

« [A Hutterite] was spat out in Saskatchewan “a few weeks ago,” Wollmann said. And maybe that will happen in Manitoba as our numbers look more like Alberta and Saskatchewan. ”

Until recently, Manitoba health officials only identified COVID-19 cases among the province’s five major health regions.

However, in some cases, officials noted when the cases were linked to Hutterite settlements. This led to a minister in a colony in Manitoba threatening to file a human rights complaint.

Normally, members of the Hutterite colony eat, work and worship together in communal settings and share their possessions. The pandemic is forcing some of these things to change. (Sheri Hofer / Hutterite Baker Colony)

Soon after, health officials announced that they would only say the cases are linked to a Hutterite colony if there is a risk to public health.

But the more location-specific information the province started providing last week may be enough for people to make connections.

Last month, Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief public health officer, urged Manitobans not to discriminate against people with COVID-19.

“In the beginning, we saw a lot of stigma against Asian Canadians,” Roussin said in July. “Now we see the stigma against the Hutterites for this. And it’s not helpful, it’s not appropriate, and it actually hinders the ability of public health to control this virus. ”

Prime Minister Brian Pallister also spoke in favor of the Hutterites.

“People who react just because they see a Hutterite person – knowing that there have been a number of cases on the Hutterite settlements – should remember that these are people who have been there for [other Manitobans] on numerous occasions, “including after disaster situations,” Pallister said at a press conference last month.

“Generalized” work to fight COVID

Wollmann says many Hutterite communities in Manitoba are going to great lengths to prevent the spread of COVID-19, even by abandoning traditions deeply rooted in their way of life.

Some communities have restricted non-essential travel within and outside the settlements. There have been colony-wide testing in some communities, and others have stopped community meals, he said.

The adoption of these measures has been “widespread” across the province, he says, but it comes at a price.

“The Hutterites are feeling the crisis. We have to dig deep to find the mental, emotional and spiritual resources to respond well.

Not… being able to get together three times a day is particularly expensive for older people who need this connection.– Kenny Wollmann

The members of the Hutterite colony eat, work and worship together in community settings and share their possessions. The pandemic is forcing some of these things to change.

“Our life is a shared life,” said Wollmann.

“Not suddenly being able to meet three times a day has a particular impact on older people who need that connection,” he said.

“In my community, we have older widows, and that’s very important, these community gatherings for them. ”

Although pandemic risk mitigation is different in settlements than in cities or even other rural areas due to the Hutterite way of life, Wollmann says the Hutterite Security Council is working closely with officials. provincial public health authorities to make sure the colonies are doing all they can.

But, like other Manitobans, the severity of the pandemic varies.

“Hutterites experience the same diversity of emotions and feelings as everyone else. We have our anti-masks and we have our people who would wear two masks if they thought it was good for everyone. ”

But most of all, Wollmann wants Manitobans to know that Hutterites, like other Manitobans, are also doing what they can to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“We are doing our best with the resources we have,” he said.


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