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Real tribe gets its due in ‘Twilight’ films

Actor Chaske Spencer sees the “Twilight Saga” as a turning point for American Indians working in Hollywood.

Spencer and co-stars Alex Meraz and Julia Jones play Quileute tribal werewolves who can phase between human and wolf form at will. Despite the supernatural context, the actors see the Quileute portrayal as a well-deserved modernization of American Indian imagery.

“What I like about it is it has brought us to pop culture in a way that’s never been done before in film,” said the Tahlequah, Okla.-born Spencer, who plays Sam Uley in “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” and has Nez Perce, Sioux and Creek ancestry.

“We’ve been around for a while. I’ve been working for, like, 10 years, and these two have also been around and working, and what I like about it is it’s finally brought us to a place where we’re not always playing with the leather and feather. That’s how we paid our dues,” Spencer said.

“And I like also, and it’s kind of up to the media as well to accept us as other than being just the mystical figures and put on the leather and feather, and speaking like in a ‘rez’ accent all the time – because I’ve done that so many times. And the kids, the kids are more accepting of us than anything else. That’s what’s really cool.”

Jones, who plays Leah Clearwater in “Eclipse,” said: “That’s also what excites me, is that we’re being put in front of primarily children and people who are in the process of defining their ideas of what Native Americans are. I think that’s probably the most valuable aspect of the way that Native Americans are portrayed in this film.”

“And speaking more on that – it’s in a contemporary setting,” said Alex Meraz, who plays Paul. “Like Chaske was saying, leather-and-feather period piece, we don’t have bows and arrows. We don’t even have clothes, though.”

With all that phasing between human and giant wolf, the average Quileute in “Twilight” prefers to go shirtless rather than break the bank buying clothes. But on a serious note, Meraz said the portrayal of the Quileute tribe has brought attention to the real, non-shape-shifting tribe in La Push, Wash.

“The fascinating thing about portraying a tribe that actually does exist is that the stuff (‘Twilight’ series author) Stephenie (Meyer) had taken from the tribe, she kind of mixed it in the realm of fantasy,” said Meraz, whose family originates with the P’urhepecha tribe of northern Mexico.

“But now a lot of people are going to Washington state, they’re going to La Push where the Quileute tribe actually do reside in, and they’re learning more. They’re forced to ask questions, learn more about the culture. And I think that that’s great that they’re getting a spotlight to introduce and to tell the story, the real creation story. That’s important. I think that fans are so into it that they want to learn where this germinated from, the root of where the wolf pack comes from.”

Spencer said that the response from American Indians to the “Twilight” films has been gratifying.

“It’s like they’re saying it’s about time,” Spencer said. “We’ve got mad support from our people on the reservations. It’s just opened up a whole different door to us. And also, it’s a little pressure, too, because it’s almost like we have to be role models now. It’s something that kind of scares me, as well, because that’s a big load to take on.”



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