A Right Life

by Clay Scott
Photos by Clay Scott

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December 16, 2011
North Harlem Colony, Montana
Clay Scott

CLAY SCOTT: You’re listening to Mountain West Voices. I’m Clay Scott. Last week we heard from Iraq war veteran Jake Hofer of the North Harlem Hutterite Colony. While I was at the colony I wanted to get the perspective of some of the young women there. In the communal kitchen I found Jake’s cousins, Melanie and Sylvia Hofer, wearing traditional dark shawls and the distinctive blue-flowered, pleated dresses of the Dariusleit branch of Hutterites. They were taking a break from cooking to sing Christmas songs: 400-year-old songs they’ve known since they were girls.


SCOTT: Later on we were joined by two more Hofer cousins – Rosie and Amberly. Since most members of a Hutterite colony have specific jobs, I was curious what theirs were.

WOMEN’S VOICES: Cleaning, cooking, sewing, butchering, gardening, yard work…painting if there’s things needing to be painted. The young girls at the colony they do most of the work that the older ladies can’t do anymore. They can do, but they prefer the younger ladies to do it so we can learn. We float from one job to the next.
And we don’t mind it. ‘Cause what else are we gonna do?
Keeps us young! And we always do it together. That’s the fun part…do it together!


SCOTT: What is it about young women off the colony that you are most curious about?

MELANIE HOFER: Well…there’s lots of different things. Like, let’s say, a nurse, or something. You wonder how it would be like to be a nurse, or a lawyer, or anything really like that…you know?

SYLVIA HOFER: I think it’s normal for a young Hutterite girl to have those, ‘cause you look around and you’re like:, ‘Oh my, I wish I could do that, I wish I could be that.’ It’s a normal feeling to have. But you look at ‘em for a minute and then you’re back to being…a young Hutterite girl!

ROSIE HOFER: I’ve never wanted to leave the colony, and I don’t know if I could make it out there, because I was just taught a different way of life and I like who I am.

SYLVIA HOFER: If we wouldn’t be following our elders, and the footsteps that our elders, and our moms and dads and our elders are doing, the colonies would…would fall apart.
There’s some ups and downs being a Hutterite. I mean…we’re not always right and we’re not always wrong. So, it’s just so that we can live the right life: a right life and a good life.
Just because we have a shawl, and we have a costume, our hearts are all the same. Our hearts are all pointing towards the same thing.


SCOTT: You’ve been listening to Mountain West Voices. Our series is produced in association with the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West, a regional studies and public education program of the University of Montana. Additional support was provided by the Greater Montana Foundation. To see images of today’s story, and to listen to dozens of archived stories from the Rocky Mountain West, go to mountainwestvoices.org. I’m Clay Scott.