Chaske Spencer: A Native Actor Who Left Addiction Behind

Photo by Elise Gannett

Chaske Spencer: A Native Actor Who Left Addiction Behind

Chaske Spencer is known for his alpha wolf portrayal in The Twilight Saga, but many people aren’t aware that he’s also an activist speaking out against the addictions that almost took his life.

“I know a higher power led me to where I am now,” he said, describing the Red Road way of life as “the way I try to center myself” after years of drinking and abusing drugs. Temptation is also a fact of life in Hollywood, where “it’s crazy.”

Spencer gave an address January 30 on the urban campus of Metropolitan State University of Denver, Community College of Denver and the University of Colorado – Denver (UCD) under the sponsorship of UCD’ s Native American Student Organization.

Spencer is a spokesman for United Global Shift, an organization focusing on the environment, employment, entrepreneurship, health and education. Sensing a serious water shortage in the future, for example, he praised innovative programs around water recycling.

Chaske Spencer speaking in Denver on January 30. Photo by Carol Berry.

But although he often talks about the environment and empowering and creating sustainable Native communities, when addressing youth he sometimes focuses on substance abuse and the role it plays in the “horrific” violence, drugs, and alcoholism on some reservations.

Spencer, a member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, went to New York City to pursue photography, but began getting acting parts and took bartending and catering gigs between acting lessons and performances.

He had a part in the movie Skins before he developed an addiction to cocaine and heroin that finally led him to become a self-described crackhead, an addict who would “steal from you, would rob you” for drug money.

His career today, with the Twilight Saga’s success, is a far cry from the days when he’d show up to auditions drunk and high, and lose out. “The acting god smiled on me that [Twilight audition] day,” he said, adding he believes that getting the part was a “gift because I got sober.”

After treatment, which also involved healing from Indian country’s hurtful past, “I started to put myself into service,” he said. “I had a spirituality—when I got clean, I needed something. I got into Sun Dance; if you walk that Red Road it’s a very strict and humbling road and it’s a hard life,” requiring sacrifice to “try to be of service” and “love everybody.”

But he accepted the hardship, he said, as he recalls a medicine man telling him, “It’s all about love—it really is.”