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Actor Chaske Spenser of ‘Twilight’ fame inspires youth at Red Lake conference

American Indian actor Chaske Spenser, from the "Twilight" series movies, was the guest motivational speaker at the Red Lake Youth Conference on Thursday afternoon at Red Lake High School .Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

RED LAKE — For the finale of the eighth annual Red Lake Nation Youth Conference on Thursday, Chaske Spenser urged teens to honor their personal potential and work for their dreams.

"Nobody else can stop you," he said. "There’s potential inside you that nobody can put out except you."

Spenser, a 38-year-old Lakota who grew up on reservations, was keynote speaker for the youth conference banquet Thursday evening. But during the afternoon program, he spoke to the 336 participants in a more informal manner. He told them how he won the role of werewolf Sam Uley in the Twilight saga films. He said when he auditioned for the movie, "I was broke; I was a garbage man for a catering company."

He was also suffering from drug and alcohol addiction. When he announced he’s been sober for five years, his audience broke into applause, and drum group Young Kingbird responded with a loud mallet stroke.

Because of his success in his acting career and his recovery, Spenser said he promised himself he would give back to the community.

"I go around and try to help people as much as I can," Spenser said. "My life changed when I put down drugs and drinking."

He said he is grateful for parents who love him "no matter how much I screw up." And being honest "keeps me on the Red Road."

Participants for the youth conference, titled "Warriors Don’t Quit," were from Red Lake, Leech Lake, Fond du Lac, Duluth and the Wind River Youth Council. The invitation to the Wind River contingent was in honor and memory of the late Eddie Wadda, who had helped with years of youth conferences at Red Lake. Wadda died at 42 in a car crash in May of last year. At the close of the afternoon activities, Young Kingbird played an honor song for Wadda as all the participants filed by to shake the hands and offer hugs to family members.

Spenser described how he had to work out and get in physical condition to play his Twilight roles. He said he went from 165 pounds with a soft belly to 210 lbs through circuit training and healthy eating. "It was hard, it was tough, but within three weeks, I could see results," he said. "Now, I get to do what I love, and I get paid for it. It’s fun, but it’s work."

Following his afternoon presentation, Spenser responded to questions, some frivolous, such as asking him to take off his shirt and show the results of his workouts, to serious, such as the opportunities for American Indians in the film industry.

Participants, most of whom have followed the Twilight saga, agreed that Spenser is both a capable actor and an inspiring speaker.

Senior Matthew Johnson said the message he took away from the afternoon presentation was "Be yourself." He said he was also impressed that Spenser has overcome his addictions.

Junior Kathy Sigane said "motivation" was her reaction. She also said she has considered the possibility of going into acting.

"I just think he went through a lot," said Senior Hilary Kingbird. "I didn’t know he had that much trouble."

And junior Ahlena Johnson said she was impressed by "the whole character."

Article by Molly Miron as special to the Pioneer.