Granite Falls Advocate Tribune
  • ‘Outsider’ expected to bring unique perspective to US-Dakota War at YMCHS annual mtg. April 21

  • When John Sterner steps to the podium at the Yellow Medicine County Historical Society’s Annual Meeting on April 21, he will offer a perspective on the US-Dakota War and its aftermath as an outsider. Sterner is not a credentialed expert of the 150 year old conflict,  he is no...
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  • When John Sterner steps to the podium at the Yellow Medicine County Historical Society’s Annual Meeting on April 21, he will offer a perspective on the US-Dakota War and its aftermath as an outsider.
    Sterner is not a credentialed expert of the 150 year old conflict, he is not of the immediate area and his indian ancestry is not Dakota. Nevertheless, he has experienced what it is to be displaced from one’s culture and geography and witnessed firsthand how the past has so distinctly shaped the present.
    A Lakota born on the Rosebud Indian Reservation of south-central South Dakota, Sterner’s stint on the reservation was short. At the age of three he would move with his parents away from the tribal lands to the southwest Minnesota town of Marshall, where he continues to reside this day.
    A standout athlete in high school, Sterner would go on to attend Southwest Minnesota State University where both of his parents were professors and, his father, also the school’s long-time wrestling coach from 1969 to 1998.
    Though Sterner competed in wrestling, football and track while attending college, it was on the wrestling mat where he truly excelled. Under his father’s tutelage, he would earn All-American accolades first in 1987 and then again 1989, the same year he would claim a National Championship in the 190-pound bracket.
    Much more than a jock, Sterner would use his time in college to explore other passions beyond athletics, most notably that of art where he became skilled as a draftsmen, painter and sculptor.
    Following in his parent’s footsteps, Sterner would go on to join the faculty and staff of Southwest State. Today, he serves as the professor of art education and as an academic counselor, providing assistance to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
    Like his father Sterner would also mentor athletes, serving nine years as the Mustang’s wrestling coach, over a span that included Granite Falls-Clarkfield High School wrestling standout, Link Steffen’s, National Championship year, who also won in the 190 pound weight class.
    Amid two worlds
    When an experience years ago revealed the spiritual significance of the horse and eagle to his life, the two creatures quickly became a recurring theme in his artwork. For Sterner, the very act of creating art is in itself a spiritual act, through which he believes he has come to better understand his ancestors.
    “I have tried to discover what my ancestry is and who I am through my art,” he said. “Much of my work has come from where I have felt spiritually drawn.”
    And, yet, despite his dedication to his cultural ancestry and having attained success by any of Western society’s measurements, he nevertheless has felt that he doesn’t quite fit with either of the cultures.
    Page 2 of 2 - Even his appearance is ambiguous, he feels.
    “I’m not overly dark and I do have some body hair, so the perception is that I am not Indian,” he said. “Whites assume I’m of color, and those of color assume I am white. I am always caught in between.”
    Over the years Sterner said he came to recognize how his Marshall upbringing has led him to an obscure position with life experiences that are inconsistent with Indians in general.
    As an example Sterner recalled an experience in which he was attending the Granite?Falls wedding of a good friend, and came face-to-face with an individual that, as a matter of principal. “didn’t like Indians.”
    His first encounter with such bigotry, it was as if such sentiments did not even exist prior to the run-in.
    Once the surprise had worn off, Sterner was not left with anger, only questions. Questions that he, as a man amid worlds, may be uniquely qualified to answer. And which he, to the extent of his understanding, may well share with the audience of the annual YMC?Historical Society meeting when he presents on the US-Dakota War and its aftermath on April 21 at the Prairie’s Edge Casino Resort .
    Unique and alike
    Following the annual meeting’s noon lunch, Sterner is scheduled to take the stage, where the SMSU art teacher intends to delve into the history and ongoing impacts of the US-Dakota War with a presentation that will parallel his own life journey of understanding.
    As a Lakota, Sterner is the first to admit feeling a little strange about being asked to speak on Dakota lands about a Dakota War, but has taken solace in his knowledge of how prevalent shared experiences of the two tribes really are, given the commonality of their pasts.
    “We all experienced the same things, just in different ways,” said Sterner.
    “Today we all suffer from post traumatic syndrome. It affects our daily lives, and our nations in the sense that we don’t always seem to be able to move them forward.”
    “We all experienced an event that stripped us of wo we are and where we are from,” he said.
    “The hard part about reconciliation is that it doesn’t help our ancestors.”

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