July 1999



Of Borders and Boundaries: Reflections on Mennonite Unity and Separation in the Modern World


     Abstract: The writing of national Mennonite histories, such as those recently completed in the United States and Canada, assumes a certain unity among Mennonites while also acknowledging the differences in the histories of the varied groups in North America before and after migration from Europe. The tendency towards maintaining distinctiveness while pursuing cooperation in many aspects of life, implicit in the Mennonite experience at the national and international level, is considered at the local level against the background of the contemporary situation in a community of Russian Mennonites in southeastern Manitoba. Situating Mennonites in the wider world of socio-economic transformations in Europe and North America since the nineteenth century, the essay highlights some of the social, religious and political causes and consequences of their internal self-categories, alliances, divisions and attempts at unity. Historians and other scholars do not just reflect these conditions, but are involved in their formation.

     Off and on for the last decade I have been studying a community of Russian Mennonites centered on a rural service township in southeastern Manitoba. I cannot disguise from Mennonites the name of the township-it is Grunthal, the rather prosaic modern name pronounced "grunt-thal" for a once proud German Green Valley: Grünthal.[1]  My interest in Grunthal is that its township and surrounding community, although founded by the pioneers of Russian Mennonite settlement to Manitoba in the 1870s, was largely rebuilt in the 1930s by a new wave of Mennonites who emigrated from the Soviet Union to Canada in the 1920s.[2]  The new immigrants came to be known as Russländer, the older settlers as Kanadier, and at least on the prairies during the 1920s through to the 1940s these terms marked a major divide between people in areas where Mennonites of the old and new immigration interacted.[3]  In usage, these terms today are archaic even though many of the social and religious fault lines between the descendants of the different immigrations remain.

     During the 1920s a large number of the descendants of the first settlers to the area around Grunthal emigrated to Paraguay, and their vacated farms were taken over largely by the new Mennonite immigrants from the Soviet Union. The ways of life of the two peoples, although separated only by two generations from common roots in Russia, were surprisingly different, as were their views of culture and aspirations for the future. The rebuilding of the Grunthal community, however, was an achievement of not just the new Russländer immigrants. It also involved some of the original settlers who had not emigrated to Paraguay or who had returned, and descendants of other 1870s immigrants from other areas of Manitoba who entered the area during the Depression years of the 1930s. In the wider context it also involved non-Mennonites: Ukrainians, French Manitobans and the "English," a term which included more than just British Canadians.

     On numerous occasions Mennonites from Grunthal have driven me to and from Winnipeg. On return trips that pass through the French Manitoban village of St. Pierre-Jolys, we turn east off the main highway and as we drive towards Grunthal they point out in the distance the silo towers of the "first" Mennonite farm visible from the highway. Then, at a strategic point in the road, they announce proudly, "We are now entering Mennonite land." In a sense we are "home" before actually arriving at our specific destination. We have crossed an invisible boundary and entered Mennoland.

     One day, this time driving with my wife, I asked her to stop close to where this statement is usually made. Beside the road is the "last" French farm homestead and in the past something had caught my eye as we sped past. Sure enough, almost lost against the trees, is a large, steel-framed crucifix depicting Christ crucified. Some French Manitoban obviously has marked where their world ends and another begins; on the road from St. Pierre more than one people have a clear idea of a boundary. Indeed, the church graveyard of St Pierre, visible from the highway, is full of large crosses and figures of angels, the Madonna and other "idolatrous" statuary. In contrast, the Grunthal cemetery lies away from the town's main road and contains only plain headstones; the erection of any cross or statue is, by community agreement, strictly forbidden.[4]  As one local Mennonite pointed out to me, the Catholics have got Christianity all wrong: it is not the crucifixion of Christ which is important, but His resurrection.

     The purpose of this paper though is not theological, but social-scientific. Obviously the verbal statement made by my Mennonite drivers and the symbolic statement of the crucifix mark a clear ethnic-religious boundary. The subject of "boundaries" has long been discussed by political scientists and geographers while in recent years social scientists interested in ethnic studies have developed new approaches to the topic.[5]  Discussions of Mennonites, Amish and Hutterites by social scientists have used concepts such as boundary marking, boundary maintenance, etc.[6]  But can all that is going on here, on my road to Grunthal, be reduced to yet another discussion of ethnicity and socio-religious boundaries among a Mennonite group?

     The marked and unmarked boundary between Grunthal and St. Pierre is obviously of significance to both Mennonites and French Manitobans. It is backed by mutual distrust founded primarily on differences in language, religion and history. However, even though social contacts between Mennonites and the local Manitoban French were and remain almost non-existent, Mennonites in this area for a long time were represented in provincial assemblies and federal parliament by French Manitobans. St. Pierre was where local Mennonites banked. Recently consolidated schooling and increased mobility have created new contacts; there are even cases of intermarriage, but such connections are still extremely rare.

     On the other hand, the boundaries are not so clear between the other major non-Mennonite neighbor of the Grunthalers, the Ukrainians. Like the French, these Ukrainians are also of different faiths (Orthodox or Catholic - Orthodox) and speak a different language. However, for both there is a sense of a shared history in terms of a common eastern European origin, migrant status and, in a sense, language. Local Ukrainians (then known as Ruthenians) came mostly from Galicia, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and spoke Ukrainian with German loan words; Mennonites spoke Low German with Ukrainian loan words acquired in the old Russian Empire. Following emigration they both lived in the same administrative territory as Ukrainians settled in the scrub areas rejected by Mennonite farmers. Social interaction has been of long standing; descendants of the first Mennonite settlers in the area socialized with Ukrainians, danced with them and, if that sounds scandalous, some also drank home-brew (hooch) with them! Sarto, the nearest Ukrainian "place" to Grunthal, consists of two Ukrainian churches (one Orthodox, the other Uniate), an old schoolhouse, a shop and a large, modern community center. The community center is always referred to by local Mennonites as the "beer hall." Grunthal is righteously dry-at least in the sense of having no public places for the sale or consumption of alcohol. If you are a Mennonite and wanted to celebrate, for example, your twenty-fifth wedding anniversary in style, you would get blessed in a Mennonite church in Grunthal and party in Sarto. In the past the only clearly marked boundaries between the Ukrainians and Mennonites involved intermarriage, and again this has weakened. No one has ever said to me, as we drive down the road from Grunthal towards Sarto, that we are leaving Mennonite land, and, as far as I am aware, neither are there crucifixes marking crucial points by the road side.

     To confuse matters further, just north of Grunthal lies Mennonite Kleefeld, a place with a shop, a scatter of homes and mechanics' workshops to service farm machinery. Most Grunthalers have few dealings with the people in and around Kleefeld. Although it is just a few minutes up the road, an invisible boundary separates Mennonite from Mennonite. The invisible boundary is mainly religious, combined with an absence of a common recent history and any reinforcement through continued social interaction. But by religion the people of Kleefeld are also Mennonite; they speak Low German and their ancestors settled at the same period as those of the present-day Bergthaler and Chortitz inhabitants of Grunthal. However, the Kleefelders are descendants of the Kleine Gemeinde who, back in the 1870s, came to Canada from a different colony in Russia, Molochna, and so they lack the Old Colony connections of the Chortitz and Bergthalers. Some, clearly visible in their dress and features, are also Holdeman converts to a North American religious revival. Where in principle no religious or ethnic boundaries should exist, in reality they do.

     Through association the Kleefelders' connection with the Kleine Gemeinde links them with the inhabitants of the town (now the city) of Steinbach, also dominated by descendants of the Kleine Gemeinde. Steinbach, situated to the northeast of Grunthal, is Grunthal's long-time rival in economic and political matters, although today Steinbach is obviously the dominant center of the region. So even within Mennoland a complex combination of religion, language and history unite and separate Mennonite from Mennonite as much or perhaps even more than Mennonite from non-Mennonite.

     Within the Grunthal area local Mennonites also recognize important internal differences in their own community. Currently in Grunthal, an area with a population of between 600 to 700, there are six different congregations, five with public worship places. Religious differences combine with historical factors and economic practices to divide the community into separate social and economic parts. The descendants of the Russländer who remain on the land mainly own dairy farms; the Bergthalers and Chortitzer concentrate on broiler chickens and hog raising. However, hog production's high capital investment costs, high profits with risk, is increasingly favored by Bergthaler. The grandchildren of the original Russländer tend to live outside the community; some remain but commute to Winnipeg, all of which reflects the greater value the Russländer placed on higher education and their acceptance of social mobility. Families of the Russländer are smaller than those of the Bergthalers, who drive around in mini-vans, referred to by the descendants of Russländer as "Bergthaler Baby Wagons." Bergthalers are more aggressive in business than most of the other Mennonites and with demographic superiority slowly are dominating the religious and economic life of the community.

     To an outsider, even if they were aware of it, this degree of diversity in a local community might appear surprising.[7]  To Mennonites it may not. Many years ago in an unpublished paper on Russian Mennonite history, I reflected on the paradox that Mennonites facing external persecution on account of their faith, or restrictions on the reproduction of their way of life, often manage to stand united in their faith. The evil "world," in part a product of their own internal ideology, was confirmed outside the boundaries of their own communities. But in environments of toleration and unrestricted opportunity there was often a tendency to seek the evil within; schism and disunity followed.[8]  The religious differences among Mennonites in Grunthal and elsewhere in North America often reflect these paradoxes. In Manitoba some of these differences date back to Russia or even earlier; others, like the aforementioned Holdemans, emerged in the new environment of North America. The migrations which brought Mennonites back into direct contact, forced them to recognize their differences as well; in a land of relative toleration and a supermarket of competing religious groups and ideas, this moved initial co-operation into a degree of distance. Later efforts at unity were prompted more by external circumstance and threats, such as the entry of Canada and the United States into international wars and by the plight of Mennonite refugees overseas, than by internal factors.

     Religious differences creating different communities of faith, however, form only part of the complex reasons for Mennonite unity and disunity in the region; different patterns of immigration, family linkages, occupation and social position, overlay religion to produce complex outcomes. Local identity is very important. Viewed from the bottom up, being Mennonite involves belonging not just to a community of faith, but also to a community of place. This is inter-connected with a community of social relatedness reflected in the web of kinship and marriage which also binds Mennonites together. In Russia these places and peoples were primarily located in village communities which developed their own identities, names and traditions, often in opposition to adjacent Mennonite villages and their inhabitants. After the departure of many Mennonites to North America in the 1870s, another sense of community was formed in Russia as the Mennonite Commonwealth emerged in the face of Russian industrialization and nationalism, uniting Mennonites in different colonies, estates and urban areas into a fragile unity. This produced a community of cultural distinctiveness, almost a "state within a state" where Mennonites distinguished themselves from non-Mennonites on the basis of claims to cultural difference, stressing a sense of peoplehood which went beyond just religious separateness.[9] 

     In Manitoba these varied forms of community continued to develop among the Mennonites, enriched and complicated by immigration and local influences until they took on new forms of unity and differentiation. One aspect of this is the sports rivalry between rural areas, villages and towns involving different Mennonites and non-Mennonites. From the 1920s through to the 1970s (but in decline in recent years) the confrontations between Mennonite teams in ice hockey and baseball made a mockery of the principle of nonresistance.[10] 

     Thus it is obvious that any sense of Mennonite unity and separation at the local level is a complex matter. If we return to Grunthal (once famous for its "competitive" sports teams), we can see that unity, while highly problematic in terms of faith is segmentary in practice. Living in this segmentary system, Grunthalers are conscious of the fact they inhabit an area of Mennonite settlement, that they are Mennonite rather than French, Ukrainian or English, that they are members of a particular congregation and are connected through kinship and marriage with a number of people, locally and farther away. When it comes to Steinbach, on occasion most Grunthalers are united in opposition to the place and its people, but when it comes to the French, all Mennonites are Mennonites and even Steinbachers are welcome at the table. Boundaries-ethnic, religious and otherwise, real or imagined-are obviously contextual.

     But does this mean that beyond the local and particular contexts, no general sense of being "Mennonite" actually exists? Is there no sense of being "One People" other than that which is linked to local communities of faith, of place, social relatedness and recent inter-connected pasts? Is the general category "Mennonite," which supposedly links Mennonites in Canada, or in America and beyond, merely an illusion of scholars, conference leaders, and MCC bureaucrats?[11] 

     Perhaps first we need to ask a more basic question: When did Mennonites become "Mennonite?" This is not as obvious as it might first appear. When did Mennonites come to recognize and act upon a greater, unified identity than the highly localized sense of being and belonging that still lies at the heart of Mennonite peoplehood? In other words, when did separateness from others, non-Mennonite and Mennonite, give way to a recognition of some kind of connectedness?

     One could argue that many of the varied Anabaptist groups which scattered from their diverse places of origin, never really lost touch with each other, in spite of the immense distances and troubled histories separating them. Throughout the centuries following the Reformation various communities and individuals, sometimes with direct ancestral connections, sometimes without, rediscovered each other or even sought each other out. The cases are numerous and would justify a separate study in themselves. Two examples though will suffice. In the eighteenth century Mennonites in Polish Prussia not only maintained links with their Dutch brethren but also were in contact with Hutterites in Russia before they ever contemplated their own Drang nach Osten. There were also links between the Dutch, the South German and Swiss Mennonites and connections across the Atlantic world long before the modern age. Benjamin Eby in Lower Canada in the 1830s wrote to the scattered Mennonite groups in America and Europe before anyone would have contemplated the massive Mennonite diaspora of the next one hundred years.

     It was however primarily these massive migrations, bringing Mennonites from the Old World to the New and covering roughly the century between 1850 and 1950, which really brought Mennonites back in touch with each other, or more correctly for many, into touch for the first time. This period of migrations helped establish complex forms of interaction between communities and individuals, some through social relatedness but others only through the recognition of a common faith and apparently similar ideas and practices. Contact was also often justified through the discovery of a shared past, either in terms of actual history or common experiences such as suffering. "History" has always played an ambiguous role in Mennonite life, as it can both unite and divide people and groups. But a recognition of similarities of faith and linkages in history has permitted groups and individuals to speak of "Mennonite" in a generic, rather than a specific, localized sense.

     To understand how this occurred, however, requires a consideration of the larger context in which Mennonites have lived. During the nineteenth century in Europe and America, localized agrarian communities gave way to new social forms involving a massive transformation of social and economic life. The new movement of Mennonites from the Old World to the New took place in an environment where mobility, physical and social, was to become the leitmotif of the transition from "Agraria" to "Industria."[12]  This transformation and transition occurred within newly-emergent political structures. Industrial societies were created within nation-states, and people identified with these new nations as their old communities were subordinated to new social and political structures. Subject people became citizens, with civil rights, including the right of political participation. In North America these conditions were often more favorable to ordinary people than in Europe, where some of the old institutions of the elites were reproduced and even strengthened in the face of such transformations. Among Mennonites in America, the same processes occurred in the formation of a conscious conservatism in some communities.

     Everywhere, however, Mennonites were directly or indirectly advantaged by the new social, economic and political conditions, even if many thought, and some continue to think, otherwise. While some Mennonites emigrants thought that by moving to America they could escape such transformations, they were to discover that in the long term change here was as great, if not greater, than in their old homelands. Indeed groups who settled prior to the nineteenth century in North America, like those who settled from the late eighteenth century in New Russia, soon became part of a market economy at odds with the idea of communities closed to external influences.[13]  Subsequently some groups attempted to avoid many of the features of Industria (social, political and technological), but in reality their stance was a product of the very same forces they denied. It is not Industria which creates discontinuities; they are an inevitable feature of the reproduction of all social and cultural systems over time, as human life is never totally replicable. In Industria such discontinuities are just more visible, programmatic and ultimately positively marked.

     While some communities embraced and exploited the new technologies of the industrial world, others attempted to control them. In the long term though, none could have avoided their profound influence. Regular systems of transport, starting with the steam train and the steam ship and leading to the airplane, encouraged Mennonites to become increasingly footloose, not only as migrants but later as tourists and visitors. From the nineteenth century onwards Mennonite newspapers are full of travel accounts of people visiting relatives not just locally, but also over quite large distances within and beyond the North American continent. These include Canadian and American Mennonites of Russian descent who went back to Russia before 1914 to "visit" relatives and friends (and conduct business), and rich Russian relatives who came to North America for the same reason. Today Mennonites keep numerous Mennonite tour agencies in business. At an institutional level this has become a small-scale industry. When I was first in Canada in 1974 and stayed at the Canadian Mennonite Bible College, I witnessed the endless comings and goings of delegates to Mennonite meetings. I recall commenting at the time that this seemed to be "community courtesy of Air Canada" when during the coffee breaks people caught up on the latest births, deaths, marriages and movements of people in their communities. This process of social and communal reconnecting often seemed far more important than the actual agendas of the meetings.

     The contacts created through migration occurred between older established communities of Mennonites in North America and Europe and also between the old and new communities in North America. This increased contact and the emergence of a more generic sense of "Mennonite" had the effect of both furthering links between communities and encouraging continuing separation. Where contacts were sustained, they were often more institutional than social. The institutional links involved the creation of new bodies often beyond the immediate social ties which bound localized congregational-communities together. New committees, boards and conferences came into being and, as befitted the spirit of the age, their structures and practices became increasingly bureaucratic and business orientated. The new Mennonite organizations paralleled the administrative structures of commercial enterprises and the bureaucracies of emergent nation-states. It is not sufficient to discuss this process in terms of abstract sociological sub-categories; the process must be seen in its wider context as part of a larger restructuring of the entire social and political worlds in which all Mennonites lived.[14] 

     In spite of an apparent ambiguous relationship with many of the technologies of the new age, access to communications technology was also important in the development of both unity and separation. Cheap printing presses and the freedom to publish, an unrestricted freedom often denied Mennonites in Europe, gave American Mennonites new opportunities to engage in an exchange of information, sometimes to assist unity, at other times to mark and reinforce differences. The production of newspapers was perhaps more significant than the printing of books or pamphlets. Numerous newspapers linked Mennonites within local communities, between communities in America, and even between North America and Europe. Denied the right to publish their own newspapers until the twentieth century, Russian Mennonites received regular supplies of American newspapers from the 1880s onwards, with even a special Russian edition of the Mennonitische Rundschau being printed for a period. These newspapers aided communication between ordinary Mennonites. As well as reports from distant communities and conferences the newspapers contain columns of private correspondence given a more general airing. The contents of these papers were dependent on another of the very important new technologies essential to the continuation of Mennonite social unity: the postal service. Most of the letters exchanged have long since vanished, but we should not underestimate their significance. The majority of these contacts occurred along well-established lines of social and communal connections, but there was also increasing "leakage" to other groups previously unconnected. In all these ways, from individuals, families, congregational-communities and conferences, Mennonites were increasingly drawn together from the middle of the nineteenth century onwards, across the continent and, among recent immigrants, with Mennonites who remained in Europe.[15] 

     At another level, however, the very opening of contacts facilitated by the new industrial environment and its technologies limited and controlled free movement and the exchange of information between Mennonites. The emergent nation-states created a new category of person-citizens-who were expected to commit their allegiance to the abstract idea of a nation and not to those of faith, family or region. Gradually the state assumed social responsibilities once reserved for local kin groups and communities. It required all citizens to be registered at birth and recorded at death. Documents were also essential to become mobile, internally and certainly to move beyond the frontiers of a nation-state, and to return. So the borders of states were no longer just a concern of elites or vague marks on maps, but became physically manifest and in some areas strictly controlled, at least at crucial border crossings. Old linkages and boundaries became irrelevant as new frontiers attempted to control peoples, goods and ideas through a process of inclusion or exclusion by law ultimately backed by the threat of force. Within the border frontiers of nation-states old boundaries came down; regions, villages, communities, families were subsumed into the larger nation; old identities and allegiances were subordinated to an inclusive nationalism. The rights and duties of citizens were defined by state law, not local custom. Citizens were required to be soldiers and jurors, given the right to vote and eligible for benefits in education, health, and welfare such as pensions. The schoolhouse and the barracks forced a new generation together and inculcated them with this new sense of being and belonging to an imagined community. National identity was made retrospective while a flimsy flag and a shallow anthem were combined with accounts of fabricated pasts to suggest that the new social and political order was ancient, natural and ordained.

     Within the frontiers of the new nation-states the primacy of belonging to a local community of faith, and the sense of being part of a historical tradition, were challenged, contradicted and even denied. In the heartland of industrializing Europe some of those who stayed and were swept into the new orders assumed new identities with ease. Mennonites in the Vistula and Danzig region, for instance, became Prussian and then German in a state which muddled (and continues to muddle) nationality with biological inheritance. Elsewhere the processes and pace of incorporation varied considerably; for some it is still occurring. But the process of nation-building, territorial demarcation and the construction of frontiers to include or exclude peoples was as much a reality of the New World as it was of the Old, even if the bases and forms of the nationalism have differed.

     Understanding this complex process in Europe and North America since the nineteenth century suggests another possible interpretation of the statement on the road to Grunthal. The reference to entering Mennonite land implies crossing a border rather than just a boundary, a frontier which marks off a particular territory. I was not told "we are now crossing a Mennonite boundary;" instead I was informed we were entering Mennonite land, a particular demarcated and delimited area. Rather than just marking areas of ethnic or religious difference, the statement clearly suggests a territory, an idea with distinct political overtones. There is other evidence to support this contention. There is a Low German saying used by some around Grunthal which goes, "Wua se de Welt met'e Pankuake toohaenje," which may be translated as "Where they hang a pancake closure to the world" or "Where they close off the world with a hanging of pancakes."[16]  It was explained to me that (of course imaginary) pancakes marked the limits of Mennonite influence, control and domination; clearly this is a territorial concept associated with power relations. It is also clearly political in the "worldly" sense; I was told with that typical Low German sense of humor that there were once three great geo-political boundaries in the world: "the Iron Curtain, the Bamboo Curtain and the Pancake Curtain!"

     But surely this emphasis on politics and territoriality cannot be right? All Mennonites are apolitical, are they not? Politics is an activity of the "world" and lies outside the bounds of Mennonite faith communities (overlooking, of course, those endless internal power games that are a feature of Mennonite congregations and conferences). Mennonites have never possessed a territorial state of their own and no one, apart from J. J. Hildebrand with his idea of a Mennostaat developed in Canada in the 1930s, has ever proposed a distinct Mennonite nation.[17]  The very idea of a Mennonite territorial state is so contrary to the principles of Mennonite faith, with obvious implications for non-resistance and separation from the world, that it appears absurd.

     The existence, however, of concentrated and named Mennonite communities of place necessarily implies the idea of territory and potentially has political implications. Where such units have been recognized by external authorities and Mennonites given control of their affairs, then distinct Mennonite areas of potential political significance have emerged.

     The major reason why I think my Mennonite drivers are suggesting that we have traversed a Mennonite territorial border is because close to the point where they speak we have indeed crossed a kind of political frontier. In this case we have crossed an administrative border and entered a local government area: the Rural Municipality of Hanover. Incorporated within the Municipality's borders is an older, Mennonite-only territory: the East Reserve, founded in 1874. This was the area of land set aside by the Canadian authorities for exclusive Mennonite settlement; another, larger area called the West Reserve, lying along the United States border, was mandated to the west "on the other side" of the Red River (orjantsied as Mennonites still say).[18]  The term "reserve" in a wider North American context indicates a land area set aside for a particular group. In the United States it was used almost exclusively for areas where the remnants of once-proud Indian peoples were herded in order to be controlled and eventually die out in the face of the inevitable triumph of civilization. In Manitoba Indian peoples were given reserves, but so were the Metis and various immigrant groups including Mennonites and, for instance, Icelanders. This practice of establishing reserves did not last long. In Mennonite consciousness, however, the sense of territorial exclusiveness has left a lasting impression. It suggests a continuity in the sense of a community of place and a community of social relatedness involving a long period of Mennonite settlement and land ownership, intergenerational succession and a degree of political autonomy.

     The sense of a bounded, "territorial" community, however, already existed before the emigration of Mennonites from Russia to Canada in the 1870s. In Russia it was based upon the "colony" system established by the Russian authorities in New Russia almost from the start of settlement. At the local level the colony-community was reinforced through the establishment of village-communities, and these village structures were also transferred to Canada. Both these structures had semi-secular systems of administration with political implications. The older tradition of localized, but non-territorial, congregational-communities with a theocratic power structure added to the organizational complexity. During the initial period of settlement in Canada, these three aspects-congregational-community, village-community, and colony- (or in Canada reserve-) community-were transferred and reconstituted; briefly they coincided in terms of territory and authority even if the religious leaders reasserted a degree of dominance they had lost in Russia. Within a generation, however, external factors such as individuated land ownership eroded the village-communities, while factors such as mixed settlement by different Mennonite congregational-communities within the reserves and internal religious schism shattered the unity and solidarity of Mennonite territorial integrity. The idea of village-communities strangely survives in a nostalgia for a lost sense of communal life, not disconnected with powerful feelings of social connectedness, pursued by modern Mennonites through genealogical research.

     The territorial sense of the Reserves, complete with imagined boundaries, has also remained, especially in the Rural Municipality of Hanover. Mennonites living in the Municipality today admit that they can and do conceive of the area in the form of its shape on the map: an abbreviated "T." This is "their land" governed by their own "people." Although by the turn of the twentieth century the Mennonite system of administration brought from Russia had given way to Manitoban local municipal government, the old territory, still predominantly inhabited by Mennonites, continued under a new name.[19]  Gradually the territory and administration of the municipality acquired new political significance. The arrival of the Russländer in the 1930s further strengthened these trends, as in pre-revolutionary Russia the Mennonites had continued to develop complex social and institutional structures within their territories which some later claimed constituted almost a state within a state.

     The generally accepted view of the association of Mennonites with politics is that while they have always lived under the political control of "worldly" leaders, and since the emergence of nations they have lived within the borders of some kind of nation-state, actual Mennonite involvement in politics has remained minimal. Mennonite negotiations with the rulers, and later politicians and bureaucrats of political states in order to secure the recognition of their principles, special rights and privileges, is not the same as becoming involved in the processes of politics and government. Such Mennonite involvement, including voting and standing for political office, is so recent an event in Mennonite history that the subject barely ranks a mention in the recently completed books on the histories of Mennonites in Canada and the United States.[20]  While details are given as to Mennonite "official" positions on political issues such as non-resistance, conscription, schooling, and taxation by conferences, church leaders and Mennonite intellectuals, studies of Mennonites and politics at the grass roots are rare.[21] 

     My recent research on aspects of Russian Mennonite involvement in politics in pre-revolutionary Russia, the early Soviet Union and Canada suggests that the view of Mennonite non-involvement in politics is in urgent need of revision. Just as Mennonites have long been involved in market production, so also have they been involved in politics. Such a view should not really surprise us if we accept that all these factors are interconnected; the transition from Agraria to Industria necessarily involves economic, social and political transformations.

     My Canadian research has involved looking at Mennonite involvement in local, provincial and national politics in southern Manitoba where Mennonites formed a majority of the population. Here local rural municipal administration gave way to a more general Mennonite involvement in politics beyond the politics of their own immediate communities. It appears that at least from the early 1890s individual Mennonites became active behind the scenes in provincial and national politics, mainly through being involved with local party organizations, and even standing for office. While only one Mennonite was elected in provincial politics before 1945, after this date increasing numbers stood for election to local provincial and federal seats. The sudden appearance of Mennonites, or at least people with Mennonite names, standing as candidates and winning seats in provincial and national politics in the 1970s, and even gaining office in government, was thus not such a remarkable turn for the Quiet in the Land. Mennonites had not suddenly crossed the political boundary between a closed, apolitical, communal life and entered the wider world as is sometimes suggested. Instead Mennonites simply reached a stage where private, closet interests and activities entered the public domain; in many local areas political interests and activity which had been commonplace for generations became open.

     One of the more interesting aspects of this research are the commentaries written at the time by non-Mennonites (and even Mennonite "experts"), about this apparently sudden and recent Mennonite interest and involvement in politics. A number of the outsiders assumed that Mennonites, even in apparently conservative rural communities of southeastern Manitoba, were a homogeneous people. It followed that, united by faith and linked by ethnicity, Mennonites were just another manifestation of the ethnic or ethnic-religious bloc vote, a political phenomenon whose time had come, a triumph of Canadian multiculturalism. But it soon became clear in electorates populated predominantly by Mennonites that any idea that Mennonite political actions could be reduced to a simple formula of religion plus ethnicity could not explain voting patterns.

     For instance, since the mid-1940s Mennonite political allegiances as expressed in local voting have undergone dramatic shifts in the Grunthal and surrounding area. Local concerns have given way to provincial and national issues as Mennonites have become more involved with the wider social and economic world. As rural inhabitants, dependent directly or indirectly on commercial production, they vote conservatively. In this area of Manitoba Mennonites in recent years have tended to support conservative parties. The fact that politicians of the correct conservative persuasion have also been locals has merely added to their support, but claiming a Mennonite connection is far from a guarantee of being elected. A Mennonite politician of the wrong persuasion is not greatly supported, however "local" their connections. The reverse also holds true: a non-Mennonite of the correct political persuasion will receive support. The fact that religious conservatism and political conservatism have become comfortable companions is only a small part of the equation. Politics, like business, is a serious matter and not to be clouded by religious or cultural differences between the different varieties of Mennonite and non-Mennonites in the area. Here the localized social, religious and historical patterns of segmentation give way to new allegiances built on very different principles. So much for Mennonite religious and ethnic solidarity!

     The wider context of Mennonite association with politics has played its part in the unity and separation of Mennonites. For some Mennonites the process of identification with nation-states began before their emigration to North America, for others not until much later. Mennonites in Russia became Russian Mennonites, at first more because of their location than as a result of an inclusive state nationalism. Yet the tag "Russian" strangely persists to this day in Canada and in parts of the United States but covers all those whose ancestors emigrated from Russia or its successor states.

     However, the term "Russian" also possessed a more nationalist meaning, particularly for those who emigrated to Canada in the 1920s and came to be known, by themselves and others, as Russländer. Of any Mennonite group the Russländer were probably the most integrated into a modern sense of national allegiance before emigration to North America before 1920, with the exception perhaps of some Prussian Mennonites.[22]  The Russländer, however, like many refugees from the old Russian Empire during the 1920s, were not so much immigrants in search of a new land as exiles forced away from their homeland by war, civil war and the triumph of Soviet power. The Russländer often spoke and wrote articles and poems about die Heimat[23]  and for many it played a significant part in their self-identity and thoughts until the day they died. One only has to read their obituaries, often self-written, published in Mennonite newspapers from the 1960s and 70s, to realize the hold Russia still had over them. Although they spent most of their lives in Canada, the greater part of the text often is devoted to placing them in their "lost" Russian homeland.

     When the early Russländer immigrants from Russia discovered fellow "Mennonites" in Canada, they named one set "Swiss" and the other "Kanadier" (Canadian).[24]  Those with whom they had the least connection were identified with a place "back there," indicating perhaps distance and separation from themselves on the continent of Europe. The Russländers separated the people they were most closely related to by locating them not with their own lost Russian homeland, but with the new land. The 1870s groups, through their emigration, obviously had abandoned the right to be connected with the "Russia" to which so many Russländer still felt attached. Linking the 1870 groups with Canada also contained a negative element as at first Russländer were profoundly suspicious of Canada as a land, society and state; some also viewed the supposed backwardness of the previous immigrants as a consequence of their degeneration on the frontiers of this uncivilized land.

     Attributing this labeling purely to the 1920s immigrants is undoubtedly too simple an explanation; on the prairies the process of terminological usage was probably not just one-way. The first immigrants to Manitoba from Russia after 1874 had already named the later immigrants from Russia who arrived between 1890 and 1914 not as members of congregational-communities but as individuals or in small groups, as "Russländer," and the name was later transferred to those of the large immigration from the Soviet Union after 1923.[25]  The 1874 immigrants though do not appear to have developed a term for self-identification among themselves, preferring to use their local congregational-community terms. Thus "Kanadier" appears to have been an invention of the 1920s immigrants. Both terms possessed positive and negative connotations. To Russländer it was always "us Russländer"-cultured, sophisticated immigrants struggling to re-establish a distinct way of life; "those Kanadier" were the backward, uncultured earlier groups who had abandoned the homeland and either failed to develop civilized ways or somehow lost them in the experience of pioneering the harsh frontiers of Canada. To the descendants of the 1874 immigration it was always "those Russländer"-proud, aggressive and "worldly" interlopers-who seemed to want to dominate everything and everyone. But the idea of "us Kanadier" was weakly developed except as a generalized alternative to the Russländer. The application of such conceptual labels all depended on who was speaking to whom, about whom, where and when. However, in the encounter between the different Mennonite groups within a new context of nationalist and international rhetoric, an almost sub-Mennonite nationalism had emerged.

     At least the Kanadier were permitted a North American identity and even one close to home, although few at this time were concerned with such a nationalist affiliation.[26]  Interestingly many were actually in the process of becoming Canadian, at least through involvement in the economy and politics of the country. As I have indicated this began for some before 1900, for others later. Many Russländer, the exiled rather than the immigrant, waited until after World War II before they acknowledged, often begrudgingly, a political identification with Canada even if they had become involved earlier in local politics. But the children of the 1920s immigrants often felt otherwise. Russländer offspring born in Canada have often remarked to me that "this is my country." Here they refer not just to their local region; they also mean the Canadian nation-state. The obvious interpretation of their statement, which they have confirmed to me in subsequent discussions, is that they feel Canadian, whereas they are less sure about their parents' feelings and allegiances.[27] 

     It should be remembered, however, that as the United States had ended large-scale immigration after World War I, in the 1920s the Russländer settled almost exclusively in Canada. In this respect they therefore are quite unlike earlier Mennonite immigrants to North America, non-Russian and Russian, whose members moved freely across the borders between the United States and Canada once the frontier had been established.[28]  The Russländer therefore developed a decidedly less continental vision than probably any other Mennonite group in North America. The first generation immigrants were the most "pre-prepared" of any Mennonite immigrant group (except perhaps some Prussians)[29]  to accept a nationalist identity as part of their identity. The fact that their children often were alienated from their parents' ambiguous sense of "national" allegiance might help to explain why second-generation Russländer have been among the strongest supporters of Canadian nationalism.[30] 

     The situation in the Grunthal area is revealing. Not far to the south of Grunthal lies the United States-Canadian border. Surprisingly, and in contrast to the discussions I have had with Mennonite intellectuals in Winnipeg, I have never felt that the presence of Big-Brother-to-the-South impinges strongly upon the consciousness of my Grunthal hosts.[31]  Perhaps this is because it is not the United States, it is only North Dakota. Across the border, I was told, was the place to stock-up on cheap gasoline, beer and liquor. Annoyance at American restrictions on the sale of hog meat were mentioned, but I can recall few other overtly negative political comments. The border is almost invisible, but perhaps for different reasons for different groups.

     Russländer have a marked West-to-East vision of the North American Mennonite community, especially in terms of social relatedness backed by actual social exchanges. As such it is strongly Canadian. Russländer descendants have connections with communities and families ranging from British Columbia to Ontario, but only limited, individual links to the United States usually reflecting recent moves in search of employment. Other groups, while also sharing a West-to-East connectedness (although often more restricted to the prairies), also possess a North-to-South vision with exchanges that extend beyond North America in Central and South America. The ancestors of the present Kleine Gemeinde settled both in Canada and the United States in the 1870s and maintained considerable contact even after immigration laws prevented easy movement of people and resettlement across the United States-Canada border.[32]  Descendants of the original Kleine Gemeinde later moved to Mexico and Belize, expanding the North-to-South connections; so did some Old Colony Mennonites from the West Reserve. What unites these people and negates the international border and the dominance of a sense of nationalism are social connections, greatly enhanced by a passion for genealogy. The Chortitz and Bergthalers have fewer links with the United States as their ancestors settled almost entirely as congregational-communities in Canada, but some have very wide North-to-South links, for Chortitz reaching as far south as Paraguay. The connectedness of these groups is predominantly social and historical, much like that of Kleine Gemeinde descendants.[33]  Here then is another level of segmentation in Mennonite-Mennonite relations within the local area and one which cuts across more than one national border, perhaps without even worrying about the frontiers of nation-states.

     This reminds me of other situations I have experienced. In 1974 the late Frank H. Epp took me to meet various "Swiss" Mennonite groups in Ontario. We ended at a service of "black bumper" Mennonites, with a clear gender division in the meeting house and a confusing habit of praying backwards. The preacher was from the United States, but as Frank listened to his sermon I noticed he was increasingly agitated. As we made our way back to his car he exploded with indignation. The preacher had kept using the phrase "in this country" as if, Frank insisted, he did not know Canada was a separate sovereign state. He told me that "these people" came across the border without recognizing Canada was a sovereign nation, not just another state of the U.S.A. Later it occurred to me that perhaps the problem lay more with Frank than with the preacher; the very idea of a border and a separate territory might be somewhat irrelevant to the preacher. Mennonites were Mennonites, they lived on the same continent, but in matters of common faith who cared which nation or nationality you belonged to?

     I recalled this event years later when listening to a paper at a Mennonite symposium on nationalism in Winnipeg. The paper was on Canadian Mennonite nationalism. The argument stressed structural differences between Canadian and American Mennonites particularly in their organizations and the need to recognize the force of nationalism in Mennonite life and work in North America.[34]  An obviously puzzled Kansas Mennonite sitting close by, leaned across to me, stretched his suspenders beneath his thumbs and confided, "Hogs is hogs whichever side of the border you're on."

     The obvious point is that there might be just as much difference between Mennonite groups within Canada and the United States as there are differences of Mennonites viewed as nationals between the two countries. Moreover, there may be as much similarity between groups of Mennonites across the continental divide as there are similarities between Mennonites living within their respective nation-states. History, theology and regionalism have to be taken into account, but so does the reality of grass-roots practice of Mennonite unity and separateness. The views, opinions and actions of Mennonite church leaders and intellectuals may not be a good guide to the thought and practice of ordinary Mennonite folk.[35] 

     So where does this leave attempts to understand the larger picture of Mennonite social and cultural life, in the past and present?

     While the existence of imagined national communities has influenced the cultural distinctiveness of Mennonites, the inclusion in "national" histories or general sociological surveys of all those who appear to share a common religious affiliation and/or a very distant "origin" in some Anabaptist past is not always helpful in understanding the complexity of Mennonite life.[36]  The existence of national conferences fails to recognize the essential similarities and differences still uniting and separating Mennonites, irrespective of national boundaries. The existence of communities of social relatedness and local identity, as well as diverse religious affiliations, may in fact be of greater significance to understanding aspects of Mennonite unity than those of assumed cultural association based on a shared national identity. Of course there has been an increased tendency towards greater homogenization among Mennonites, itself a direct reflection of the processes of social transformation associated with nation-building within modern states. The development of nation-states and feelings of nationalism have been dominant forces in the lives of all peoples since the nineteenth century. But modern conditions and concerns should not be used to fabricate views of the past which assume dormant connections before they emerge or to claim an implicit relationship between peoples where they still had to emerge. The nationalist rhetoric of some sectors of the educated, urban Mennonite elite requires testing through the examination of historical sources and current realities at the grass roots.

     Early in 1998 I received within weeks of each other two Mennonite newsletters from the North American continent with conflicting messages. The March edition of the Mennonite Historian from Winnipeg reported that a new "Canadian" Mennonite encyclopedia based on the latest communication technology, the internet, was being established and reported a proposal for a single-volume history of the Mennonites in Canada for students: "One People, One Story" I presume.[37]  The other, the February Newsletter of the Mennonite Historical Society from Goshen, contained a progress report on a "Global Mennonite Historical Project": "Many People, Many Stories" I presume.[38]  Up go the borders, down come the boundaries.

     With the Iron Curtain now history, the Bamboo Curtain swinging free, I wonder if I will glimpse pancakes hanging beyond the crucifix the next time I take the road to Grunthal?

[*]  James Urry is Reader in Anthropology at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Return to Text

[1] . On the name shift see Jack Thiessen, "Grünthal," Mennonite Mirror 2 (October 1973), 17. Return to Text

[2] . There is an interesting account of the community's past published in 1974 to mark the centenary of settlement, Grunthal History 1874-1974 (Grunthal, MB: Grunthal History Book Committee, 1974). Return to Text

[3] . Of course, neither the Russländer nor the so-called Kanadier formed homogeneous units; the Russländer were divided by a number of differences often established prior to immigration. one of the most significant of which was the religious difference between membership of the Mennonite Brethren and other congregations; Kanadier was a category defined in opposition to Russländer and in many senses just meant "not-Russländer" (see below for a longer discussion of these issues). Return to Text

[4] . A recent visit has revealed a pink headstone in the shape of a heart; times change. Return to Text

[5] . Originally the concepts of boundaries and border primarily referred to geo-political issues, but even geographers now seem to have adopted a more socio-cultural rather than a geo-political usage. Ladis K. D. Kristof's "The nature of frontiers and boundaries" Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 49 (1959), 269-82, provides an excellent overview of the history of geo-political usage. The classic text on social and ethnic boundaries is Frederik Barth, ed., Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Cultural Difference (Oslo: Universitets Forlaget. 1969). More recently the issue of borders and boundaries, including the importance of national frontiers, has been of increasing interest among anthropologists, see A. P. Cohen ed., Symbolizing Boundaries: Identity and Diversity in British Cultures (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986) and H. Donnan and T. M. Wilson, eds., Border Approaches: Anthropological Perspectives on Frontiers (Lanham, MD: University Press of America in conjunction with the Anthropological Association of Ireland, 1994). Return to Text

[6] . For an indication of the popularity of using the term "boundary" in studies of Mennonite, Amish and Hutterite society see the references in Don E. Smucker's The Sociology of Mennonites, Hutterites and Amish: a Bibliography with Annotations. Vol. 2: 1977-1990 (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1991) and in review articles such as Leo Driedger and Calvin Redekop's "Sociology of Mennonites: State of the Art and Science," Journal of Mennonite Studies 1 (1983), 33-63. Return to Text

[7] . For a puzzled outsider's view of Grunthal and its diversity of Mennonite congregations see Mark Abley, Beyond Forget: Rediscovering the Prairies (London: Chatto and Windus, 1988), 47-48. Return to Text

[8] . James Urry, "The transformation and polarization of the Mennonites in Russia, 1789-1914," (Unpublished paper, Seminar on Russian Mennonite History, Winnipeg, November, 1977). Return to Text

[9] . This was the subject of the first of my 1994 Fall Lectures in Winnipeg titled "Peoplehood, Power and Politics. Aspects of the Russian Mennonite Experience in Imperial Russia, the Soviet Union and Canada 1880-1940." I am currently revising and extending these lectures. Return to Text

[10] . This is not surprising in the wider context of sports; in spite of all the high ideals surrounding competition in the Olympic Games, ugly nationalistic fervor and ideological claims for the superiority of one political system over another show that sport is but war by other means. Return to Text

[1] 1. But as Rodney Sawatsky pointed out some years ago, there appear to be more terms to express Mennonite plurality than unity.-"Defining 'Mennonite' Diversity and Unity," MQR 57 (April 1983), 291. Return to Text

[1] 2. Agraria is where the dominant mode of production and the reproduction of social and cultural life involve farming or related activities often for self-sustenance within local, kinship-based communities. Agraria developed with the domestication of plants and animals, is less than 10,000 years old and in places possessed complex forms. On a global scale Industria is less 200 years old and developed from Agraria; many of the social and cultural categories of Agraria survive in modern Industria. In Industria a majority live in urban areas and are employed in the commercial production of industrial goods or services industries needed to support the production and reproduction of its complex social system; agricultural production has been industrialized and only a small part of the population are involved in commercial food and resource production, utilizing capital and advanced technology. The economic system is based on continuous growth which affects the reproduction of social life and the transference of knowledge between generations. The forms of cultural knowledge required to achieve competency in life are learned through formal education and training rather than acquired informally during the process maturation. Persons acquire personal skills, assert their individuated selves and are highly mobile in terms of physical location and social status. Return to Text

[1] 3. This is one of the significant findings of Richard K. MacMaster in his Land, Piety and Peoplehood: the Establishment of Mennonite Communities in America 1683-1790 (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1985), esp. 282-83; on the Russian situation see David G. Rempel, "The Mennonite Commonwealth in Russia: a sketch of its founding and endurance, 1789-1919," MQR 47 (April 1973), 259-308; 48 (Jan. 1974), 5-54; and my None But Saints: the Transformation of Mennonite Life in Russia, 1789-1889 (Winnipeg: Hyperion Press, 1989). Return to Text

[1] 4. By sociological sub-categories I am referring to the uncritical use of terms such as ethnicity, sectarianism and denominationalism, often used to facilitate the appropriate taxonomic placement and academic dissection of groups along proper theoretical lines. Historians should realize these terms are not value-free and involve complex semantic issues which need to be critically examined in their particular historical contexts; see Philip Gleason, Speaking of Diversity: Language and Ethnicity in Twentieth-century America (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins U. Press, 1992). Return to Text

[1] 5. Historians, and genealogists have tended to concentrate on specifically "Mennonite" newspapers while neglecting the non-Mennonite general German-language newspapers which surprisingly contain a great deal of Mennonite activity in letters and reports. These sources also reveal that Mennonites had a window to, and voice in, the wider world not always apparent in the Mennonite newspapers which were more constrained in their coverage. I am thinking here of such sources at the Odessaer Zeitung in Russia and in Manitoba the Nordwesten where Mennonites discuss non-religious issues and differences in their communities. Return to Text

[1] 6. Literally translated this is "where they the world with pancakes to shut-hang." I am grateful to Ernie Braun of Niverville for pointing the saying out to me and also to Reuben Epp, Al Reimer and Jack Thiessen for advice on transliteration, translation and meaning. Return to Text

[1] 7. James Urry, "A Mennostaat for the Mennovolk? Mennonite Immigrant Fantasies in Canada in the 1930s," Journal of Mennonite Studies 14 (1996), 65-80. Return to Text

[1] 8. Jantsied is a relative term; to Mennonites in the west the East Reserve is jantsied, as opposed to dietsied; a Saskatchewan Mennonite once noted that all Manitoba Mennonites are jantsied to him! Return to Text

[1] 9. Two local histories of the area are Abe Warkentin, ed., Reflections on our Heritage: a History of Steinbach and the R.M. of Hanover from 1874 (Steinbach, MB: Derksen Printers, 1971), and a municipal history, Lydia Penner, Hanover: One Hundred Years (Steinbach, MB: Derksen Printers, 1982). Also, a very active Hanover Steinbach Historical Society produces working papers on the local settlements and peoples of the area and a newsletter, Preservings, which is almost a journal in its own right. Return to Text

[2] 0. The issue of nationalism is barely addressed either apart from Theron Schlabach's interesting comments on nationalism and civil religion in his Peace, Faith, Nation: Mennonites and Amish in Nineteenth-century America (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1988), points which are not followed up in detail in subsequent volumes in spite of their increasing significance. I would suggest that in the Canadian volumes the idea of a Canadian nation and Canadian nationalism are implicit assumptions rather than subjects in need of critical examination. Ted Regehr's latest volume Mennonites in Canada, 1939-1970: a People Transformed (Toronto: U. of Toronto Press, 1997) has no index entry under "politics" and, in spite of increasing Mennonite participation in politics and government, no discussion of the topic. Return to Text

[2] 1. The major account of Mennonite politicization is James Juhnke's A People of Two Kingdoms: the Political Acculturation of the Kansas Mennonites (Newton, KS: Faith and Life Press, 1975), and more recently Royden Loewen's "American Nationalism and the Rural Immigrant: A Case study of Two Midwestern Communities 1900-1925," in Abe J. Dueck, ed., Canadian Mennonites and the Challenge of Nationalism (Winnipeg, MB: Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society, 1994), 165-90. Recently, Adolf Ens has published a major account of the relationship between Canadian governments and the Mennonites who emigrated from Russia to Canada after 1870, Subjects or Citizens? The Mennonite Experience in Canada, 1870-1925 (Ottawa, ON: U. of Ottawa Press, 1994). John H. Redekop, a political scientist, provides a listing and commentary on Mennonites involved in politics in "Mennonites and Politics in Canada and the United States," Journal of Mennonite Studies 1 (1983), 79-105; Redekop has updated his listing of Mennonites involved in elections in "Decades of Transition: North American Mennonite Brethren in Politics" in Paul Toews, ed., Bridging Troubled Waters: the Mennonite Brethren at Mid-[Twentieth] Century (Winnipeg: Kindred Press, 1995, 39-66); although useful, it is not complete and in places inaccurate. Return to Text

[2] 2. George K. Epp, "Russian Patriotism among Nineteenth-century Russian Mennonites" Journal of Mennonite Studies 4 (1986), 120-34; James Urry, "The Russian Mennonites, Nationalism and the State 1789-1917" in Abe J. Dueck, ed., Canadian Mennonites and the Challenge of Nationalism (Winnipeg: Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society, 1994), 21-67 (abbreviated as "Mennonites, Nationalism and the State in Imperial Russia," Journal of Mennonite Studies 12 (1994), 65-88). Return to Text

[2] 3. "The homeland," although this does not quite catch the more emotional sense of the term in German; see also the term Heimatlos which may be translated as "loss of homeland," but again this loses something in translation. Return to Text

[2] 4. Frank Epp in his Mennonites in Canada 1920-1940: A People's Struggle for Survival (Toronto: Macmillan, 1982), 242-44, discusses some of these issues although without indicating the origins and varied use of the terms. Return to Text

[2] 5. I am grateful to Adolf Ens for first pointing this out to me; Gerhard Ens has reminded me that at first the 1920s immigrants were also known as "the Newly Immigrated" (die neu eingewanderten Mennoniten). Return to Text

[2] 6. I do not have space to explore what "American" meant for the different groups only to note that like the term, like "English," it could have rather ambiguous connotations. For Russländer in the 1920s and '30s "American" certainly was more negative than "English" as it was associated with the excesses of "democracy" and the impurity of race associated in part with the presence of "Negroes" (African-Americans) and their music-jazz! Return to Text

[2] 7. During the early 1970s their parents often asked me who I thought the Mennonites were, a question reflecting their own confused sense of identity and national allegiance; see my "Who are the Mennonites?" in Archives Europ‚ennes Sociologie 24 (1983), 241-62. Return to Text

[2] 8. One could make a very good case for arguing that the one really significant factor that separates Mennonites in Canada from those in the United States can be attributed to the dominance of the Russländer and their descendants in Canada and their almost complete absence in the United States. This could be an interesting topic for comparative analysis in a number of fields. Of course one should not underestimate other influences or the fact that many individual Russländer and/or their descendants from Canada have been influential in the United States. Return to Text

[2] 9. The "Prussian" influence, not just in nineteenth century America, but also earlier in Russia, would be well worth investigating. Raised in a powerful new state some of these Prussian Mennonites had an impact on other Mennonites quite disproportionate to their numbers. Return to Text

[3] 0. One could suggest a degree of "overcompensation" is at issue here. But there are many other factors involved such as higher education, reaction to the Vietnam War and other American policies, developments in Canadian international policy and of course the changes in what it means to be "Canadian." Return to Text

[3] 1. I am not suggesting that the people of Grunthal do not identify with Canada or do not feel Canadian. Of course, being "Canadian" has its own complex history; Canadian nationalism has a complex past and has manifest itself very differently in various parts of the country, even if we forget about Quebec. As Seymour Lipset points out, one aspect of Canadian nationalism is that it has often been defined by "stressing what it is not: the United States."-Continental Divide: the Values and Institutions of the United States and Canada (New York: Routledge, 1990), xv. But then, what is the United States? Return to Text

[32] . Royden Loewen's work clearly reflects the significance of these connections, see for instance his Family, Church, and Market: a Mennonite Community in the Old and the New Worlds, 1850-1930 (Toronto: U. of Toronto Press, 1993). Return to Text

[33] . In the area two kinds of Mennonite history publications interest people, the first concern genealogy, the second local communities, church histories or regional studies of administrative districts, villages or towns. Return to Text

[34] . The paper in question was by Rodney J. Sawatsky, later published as "Canadian Mennonite Nationalism? The 49th Parallel in the Structuring of Mennonite Life," in Abe J. Dueck, ed., Canadian Mennonites and the Challenge of Nationalism (Winnipeg: Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society, 1994), 89-110. Return to Text

[35] . The use of questionnaires, although useful in tracing shifts in normative responses over a period of time, in my opinion do not reflect always life as lived or opinions as practiced by Mennonites. It is an old anthropological truism that people say one thing, but do another; in my experience this applies to Mennonites as much as to any other group. Return to Text

[36] . For an interesting attempt to differentiate between U.S. and Canadian Mennonites on the basis of history and institutions see Rodney J. Sawatsky, "Domesticated Sectarianism: Mennonites in the U.S. and Canada in Comparative Perspective" Canadian Journal of Sociology 3 (1978), 233-74. Return to Text

[37] . Ken Reddig, "Historical Society to Produce Canadian Mennonite Encyclopedia," Mennonite Historian 24 (Jan 1998), 1. Return to Text

[38] . L[eonard] G[ross], "Progress Report: The Global Mennonite Historical Project," Mennonite Historical Society Newsletter 4 (1998), 1.


This page and all its contents ©1995 The Mennonite Quarterly Review. All rights reserved.
E-mail The Mennonite Quarterly Review: mqr@goshen.edu
Voice: (219) 535-7433  

Fax: (219) 535-7438