Zahn McClarnon, more than just Indian and Irish

Roscoe Pond

HOLLYWOOD – Over the past 12 years Zahn McClarnon (Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux) has made dozens of appearances on TV, cable network movies and feature films. In the year 2002 alone he appeared in “Skins,” a popular Toyota commercial from Japan, “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” and a documentary called “Need 4 Speed.” McClarnon has never been happier in his life and feels that today “Zahn the individual” is more than just the American Indian and Irish blood that runs through him.

McClarnon inherited that idea of individualism from his father who was Irish. His mother lives on the Rosebud Indian Reservation but he was raised outside Browning, Mont. under the tutelage of his grandparents. Growing up McClarnon felt he didn’t fit in because he went to a public school during the week and on weekends his grandparents took him back to the reservation. He wanted to escape because the struggle to be himself was becoming difficult.

At age 11 McClarnon began participating in sweat lodge ceremonies and Sun dances. He continues to do this today and admits that at 36 years old a lot of things have changed for him.

Getting to where he is today has been a long and arduous road because McClarnon discovered drugs and alcohol at an early age. For 20 years off and on McClarnon was addicted, as was his older brother. He believes his addictions were handed down genetically from his mother, who also battled alcoholism. They are all clean and sober today. His mother teaches therapy in a rehabilitation clinic in Rosebud. McClarnon has been clean for three years.

McClarnon says that no one forced him to drink and do drugs. It was his choice and he paid the consequences for it. A few years ago he reached a point in his life where he felt content and was proud that he fit into his own skin. Through his AA 12-step program and sweat lodge ceremonies, living clean has brought him to a happier level.

When McClarnon appeared in the documentary “Need 4 Speed” directed by Angelique Midthunder, wife of actor David Midthunder, he discussed openly on camera his substance abuse and drug problems and how he came clean. He believes that doing this helped himself as well as others. Yes, he says, it was good to be an example to other Indians who have their own substance problems, but he also wanted to see how much more he could help himself. McClarnon added he would be more than happy to speak to schools and programs about his experience.

At 33, McClarnon had a heart attack from what he believes was a result of never being in shape. For the rest of his life he will have to take heart medication and have regular check ups. Five days a week he hits the gym for workouts. McClarnon says that it has made his life better and his self-esteem that much stronger. He’s never been happier because he’s a lot more productive than he ever was.

McClarnon loves acting and being on the production set. He believes in practice and more practice and takes acting classes twice a week to keep up with his craft. McClarnon says he is tired of the Indian warrior stereotype and is seriously considering cutting his long hair. He has spent a dozen years playing Native roles and he feels he may be becoming pigeonholed. McClarnon says he has no problem with non-Indians playing Indians because if you’re an actor that is your job. Within the last few years he has been getting audition call backs for Latino roles and even played a lead gang member in the short-lived ABC TV series “Dangerous minds.” In the fall McClarnon will go back to school and take Spanish classes to add to his acting resume.

Although he doesn’t know what the future holds, McClarnon would like to have a good lead role on a TV series and continue his work as an actor.

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