Eric Schweig (born Ray Dean Thrasher on 19 June 1967) is a First Nations actor best known for his role as Chingachgook’s son Uncas in The Last of the Mohicans (1992).
Eric Schweig was born in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, from Inuvialuit and Portuguese lineage on his mother’s side. Eric was the oldest of seven children, who were all adopted out as part of an assimilation programme. Schweig’s biological mother died of alcoholism in 1989. He never met her. “She didn’t drink a drop of alcohol until we were taken away,” says Schweig. “We were part of the whole assimilation program—forcibly taken away. But they told us that we weren’t.”
Schweig was adopted at the age of six months by an English speaking German-French family. He spent his childhood in Inuvik until he was six, when his family moved to Bermuda. They later moved back to Canada, to Combermere, Ontario where he spent the majority of his childhood. Schweig’s adoptive parents were severely abusive. In 1999, at the Vancouver Inner City Foster Care Conference, Eric Schweig delivered a heartfelt testimony about his painful experience of adoption and abuse.
When he was 16, Eric ran away to Toronto, Ontario, where he supported himself by framing houses. In 1985, he was part of the cast of The Cradle Will Fall, an experimental adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening produced by Theatre of Change at the Actor’s Lab; this was his first experience as an actor. In 1987, at twenty years old, he was approached by a producer who suggested he audition for a role in the movie called The Shaman’s Source (1990) starring Billy Merasty. With little formal education or experience he won the role. The film launched his career in the film industry.
Schweig’s numerous screen credits (over thirty) include his portrayal of Uncas in the epic motion picture The Last of the Mohicans (1992) and Pike Dexter in the movie Big Eden (2000), for which he won the Grand Jury Prize at the Outfest Film Festival. In 1992, he was cast as Black Thunder in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation mini-series By Way of the Stars with Gordon Tootoosis as the Cree Chief and Tantoo Cardinal as Françoise. It was shot in Uxbridge, Ontario. He starred in The Scarlet Letter and Disney’s Tom and Huck in 1995.
Among his period film credits since The Last of the Mohicans, Eric became the famous Mohawk leader Joseph Brandt/Thayendanegea for TNT’s telefilm The Broken Chain (1993), playing for the first time the main character in a movie. It was shot entirely in Virginia.
More recently, Eric Schweig has played the lead role in films and TV series addressing more contemporary issues facing aboriginal and Native American people: Skins (2002), Cowboys and Indians: The J.J. Harper Story (2003), One Dead Indian (2006) and Blackstone (2011-2015).
Eric Schweig has been an artist since he was a kid. Basically self taught, he looked at Russian books of Inuit masks for inspiration. During the 90s, Schweig began an artistic quest to regain his aboriginal roots. Since his childhood, like many Inuit, Eric has carved small objects in wood or stone (figures, kayak, etc.). Under the coaching of artist Vern Etzerza, he studied traditional Pacific Coast carving before directing his talent specifically towards traditional Inuit Spirit Masks, in collaboration with master carver Art Thompson.
His collection of masks are not only successful attempts to reconnect with his heritage and with Inuit art, but his carvings are also necessary labours of psychological resilience facing a traumatized childhood. As a disastrous consequence of this uprooting and abuse, Schweig struggled for many years against alcohol abuse and drug abuse. He has stated that Skins (2002) was the first movie in which he was entirely sober.
His fame as an actor gives him the opportunity to share his life’s experience in numerous speeches he presented in Canada and the United States of America. He was able to make a large audience aware of aboriginal issues, especially the care of First Nations children. He has worked for some years as a full time Resource Assistant for Youth, providing assistance to inner-city youth.
Schweig currently resides in Winnipeg, Manitoba.