Throughout my life I’ve encountered many misconceptions and stereotypes about Native Americans: inaccurate and hurtful depictions in film, in textbooks, and in sports and mascots. Although I faced challenges along my journey, I never let stereotypes become my narrative. Unfortunately, these stigmas too often negatively impact Native American children and their communities. Through the Aspen Institute Center for Native American Youth’s (CNAY) public event “Native American Youth: Changing the Narrative” on November 19, I am working to change the narrative for the 2.1 million Native American youth living in United States.
As an actor and in my role in the entertainment industry, I have the ability to bring authenticity to Native Americans and Indian Country through film and television. In my career, I have worked to break down stereotypes that have been used far too often for decades. With films like “Winter in the Blood,” which is based on the novel of the same name by Native American author James Welch (Blackfeet/Gros Ventre), I had the ability to tell a true Native American story. Although my character deals with difficult issues such as alcohol abuse and violence, the film does not just focus on those challenges. My character, just like me and other Native Americans, is complex, multi-dimensional, and very much human.
As Native Americans, we are still connected to our cultures and our traditions, but we live in modern society and the world needs to understand and respect that. Native Americans are not frozen in time; we are not tragic statistics and we are not worn out caricatures. That is not our narrative.
Through film and through storytelling, I am working to help reshape the way the world sees Native peoples. And young people throughout Indian Country are doing the same each and every day. Whether it’s on reservations or in urban Indian communities like Seattle and Denver, young Native Americans, like those involved in CNAY’s Champions for Change, are addressing challenges in their communities through positive, youth-led initiatives, by graduating high school and college, becoming leaders, and giving back to their communities, all while changing the perception about Native Americans – especially Native youth.
Chaske Spencer is a Native American actor who has starred in The Twilight Saga films, Steven Spielberg’s Into The West, and, most recently, appears in the television series Banshee and stars in Winter in the Blood.