The Southern Alberta Kanadier Association (SAKA) hosted an all-day conference at Lethbridge College on Tuesday to help educate service providers on the Low German Mennonite community.
Topics included LGM history and beliefs, their concerns regarding Canadian laws and government systems, educational priorities, and practical tips to refer to when working with Low German Mennonites.
“I’ve often noticed how unfamiliar many people are with the culture and the background of the LGM,” added organizer Margarita Sawatzky.
“It’s very important to us to be able to help other service providers who might not be of the LGM background to understand what the culture is like, what makes us tick, and what are the struggles that face us now”
Low German Mennonites were formed as an offshoot of the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century, originally migrating from Eastern Europe and Russia to Canada and other countries in North and South America. Many have migrated back and forth due to economic and social factors.
“Most of the people from the Low German Mennonite community will come to southern Alberta from Mexico,” explained Ontarian keynote speaker Amanda Sawatkzy.
“Some of the more recent migrations have also included some from Bolivia. In southwestern Ontario we’re seeing a lot of both.”
She spoke about her experiences growing up, and added there’s been some debate as to whether it’s a cultural or religious group, with members having a range of beliefs.
“When you look at somebody like me who is more non-traditional Low German Mennonite, you wouldn’t maybe necessarily be able to tell by my dress that this is where I come from. But I still speak the language, I grew up that way, I just made different choices as an adult.
“So you can’t just make inferences based on how somebody is dressed or looks that they are or aren’t Low German Mennonite.”
Kaitlynn Weaver, an outreach services supervisor with Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) in Taber, Alta., said it was important for her to attend, having little knowledge of the community’s history.
“The history of Low German Mennonites and the migration throughout the years (is new) for me,” she said. “(As) someone who’s not from southern Alberta I’m really interested to learn about the history so I can provide better services for Low German families.”