Native Americans Giving Back: Chaske Spencer
Lakota Sioux, Chaske Spencer (pronounced Chess-kay) was born in Oklahoma and grew up on reservations in Montana and Idaho. Breaking the mold by being both musician and athlete, Chaske is skilled in singing, playing bass and drum and Native American dancing, as well as football, track and horseback riding.
With a strong interest in photography, Chaske first imagined his career behind the camera but soon found himself in front of the camera acting. As a teen, Chaske acted at the Lewiston Civic Theatre. He later studied theatre at Montana School of the Arts and Lewis & Clark State College, and worked with acting coaches like David Gideon and Ed Kovens. Moving to New York City to fuel his acting career, Chaske played Dracula off-Broadway and various roles in The Roundabout and The Public Theatre.
It was in New York that casting director Rene Haynes discovered Chaske and cast him in his first feature film, “Skins” (2002). This led to the actor’s lead roles in “Dreamkeeper” and “Into the West” by Steven Speilberg. Haynes also cast Chaske in the role for which he is best known, Sam Uley of the werewolf pack in “The Twilight Saga.” His latest film is “Winter in the Blood” (2013).
A social activist, Chaske is passionate about making a difference. He speaks and supports fundraisers for nonprofits such as the Osage Nation Foundation and the National Museum of the American Indian. Chaske is especially focused on reducing poverty and creating sustainable communities. To this end, Chaske is teaming with producer Ted Kurdyla and his manager on a documentary and a feature film through his production company, Urban Dream.
Chaske supports United Global Shift in working for a shift from survival and scarcity to possibility and peace, and a shift of power away from government and to the people. Their “Be the Shift” projects focus on environment, employment and entrepreneurship, health and education, empowering people to create sustainable, lasting change in their communities.
A spokesperson for the “Native Vote” campaign” in 2012, Chaske sees a first step in creating a shift for Native Americans is exercising the right to vote and electing legislators who understand the need for empowerment and change. Only 2 of 5 Native Americans eligible to vote are registered. Chaske also teamed up with First Lady Michelle Obama on the “Let’s Move! Indian Country” campaign to promote healthier lifestyles among Native families and communities.
Like Chaske, part of NRC’s mission is supporting long-term solutions as a way forward to a brighter future. Our sustainability projects focus on health and nutrition, including projects like Let’s Move! and enhanced gardening projects, youth development and environmental emergency preparedness. Last year we tilled gardens, built raised garden beds for Elders, supported garden training, and taught healthy cooking, food service and food safety for 234 people from the Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River reservations. We also provided college readiness training for 362 Native students from the Navajo Nation and surrounding pueblos.
If we have one wish going forward into 2015, it would be social equity for all. We congratulate Chaske Spencer for his insight and care in working to create lasting change and social equity for Native Americans and other cultures.