Viterbo University Strides Magazine Online

Alum returns for presentation

Frances (Thunderchief) Steindorf '80 returned to Viterbo College to share with students his interpretation of the American past which is quite different from the typical textbook version of U.S. history taught in the high schools.

Steindorf's appearance coincided with a month-long campus wide Diversity Days Celebration which featured a number of presentations on cultural and ethnic topics.

Spirituality is intricately interwoven into all aspects of Indian culture. I was told as a child that thunderbeams brought us here," reflects Steindorf as he tells his people's version of the creation story. Steindorf originally from west central Wisconsin, is of Native American and German descent, and a member of the Hochungra (also called Ho Chunk and Winnebago) nation. Steindorf explained to a history class of 50 Viterbo students that cultural differences are a timeless issue that still serve as a barrier to the Hochungra.

His mother left boarding school in the eighth grade after being constantly berated by European teachers for speaking in her native tongue. This did not muddle her perception of the importance of education, however.

This value is reflected in Steindorf's endless pursuit of knowledge. Executive director of the Education Department for the Hochungra nation, he is currently working towards a P.h. D. in educational administration. I never talked in class from K-12. It wasn't that I had nothing to say, but that in my culture it is disrespectful to look someone directly in the eyes and we dialogue with a lot of silence," explains Steindorf. In college his instructors were amazed at the quality of his written work, because he seldom said a word in class.

Steindorf smiles now as he remembers being the new Indian kid on the block," though it is not difficult to see the pain beyond his jovial facade. He recalls how quickly the parents of his grade school classmates shattered their colorblind acceptance of him. He could see in their eyes reluctance to welcome a little boy that lived in a wigwam into their homes.

In high school, it was his intellect, musical and athletic ability that saved the contemporary spokesperson and songwriter from even deeper dejection. It was also spiritual strength and a commitment to his Hochundra heritage a heritage that has been misunderstood by generations. Our own Declaration of Independence refers to Native Americans as uncivilized, merciless indian savages." How can we be regarded as uncivilized?" asks Steindorf, For centuries we have had a very sophisticated social structure, with our own system of education, economics and religion."

History books tell of a mere fraction of what my people have endured. You've heard of the Cherokee 'trail of tears' but are probably unaware that there are hundreds and hundreds of trails of tears. My tribe was forced to move six times and 70 percent of us never made it to the final destination," says Steindorf who indicated its not his intention to evoke feelings of guilt, but rather to create an awareness of the problems which exist and to correct historical inaccuracies.


Back to July 1996 Strides