Native American Actor Adam Beach is Guest Speaker at Red Lake Youth Leadership Conference - P9
On Wednesday, March 28, 2012, Native American Actor Adam Beach was the guest speaker on the second day of Red Lake’s Youth Leadership Conference.
In front of about three-hundred students and adults, Mr. Beach gave a true-to-life presentation on his own experiences in growing up with gangs, the loss of his parents when he was just 8 years old, and how he became the success he is today.
Raised on the Dog Creek First Nations Reserve with his two brothers, his mother was killed by a drunk driver and his alcoholic father drowned only weeks after. The three brothers went to live with their grandmother and then with their uncle and aunt in Winnipeg where Adam joined drama classes and began acting in local theatre productions.
According to IMDb.com, since then he has appeared in over 60 TV and Film roles. His performance in the Academy Award nominated Clint Eastwood - directed Flags of Our Fathers (2006) was phenomenal. He played Ira Hayes, a Pima Native American Marine, and one of the six to raise the American flag on Iwo Jima, who found the resulting fame hard to handle - subsequently giving way to alcoholism. This alone would have been an emotional role for Adam play; however, during filming, both his grandmother and best friend passed away. His role as Hayes is both realistic and heartbreaking, earning him two Best Supporting Actor Award Nominations - he stands out well above the rest of the cast.
Adam has been further nominated for three Awards for his role in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (2007) (TV) including a Golden Globe. He has put in terrific performances in the comedy film Joe Dirt (2001) and the John Woo World War II war epic Windtalkers (2002) in which he co-starred with Nicolas Cage.
He headlined the cast in the Walt Disney production Squanto: A Warrior's Tale (1994), featured in John Singleton's Four Brothers (2005) and starred with Harrison Ford and 'Daniel Craig' in the science fiction-western smash hit Cowboys & Aliens (2011). He is starring in (2008-) "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (1999) and "Big Love" (2006).
“Growing up, in high school, me and my friends got involved in gangs and started a gang called the West End Boys,” Beach said. “And we were the predominant gang in Winnipeg up in the 80s. We were pretty successful at what we were doing, trying to be the bad boys. For me it was all I knew because in my back yard on the north end of Winnipeg—at the time the North End was the second worst neighborhood in Canada.
Who would have thought it was run by the neighborhood of First Nations people—aboriginals—up in Canada.”
He said for some reason we know how to live in poverty and do it well. He said his brother still lives in it and lives a humble life.
It was all he knew at the time living with prostitutes in his back yard, in parking lots, watching tricks happen and drug activity.
At 16, a man saw threw him and asked to show him how to be Indian. The man showed him the traditional side. His name is Neopolian Ross from the Fon du Lac Indian Reservation. He goes there a lot for ceremonies.
“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be who I am today,” Beach said about Ross. “A lot of people look at me today and say, ah, Mr. Hollywood, acting--acting kind of gets you out of your situation. It’s like, ‘no’, acting is a passion I believed in. It’s something I liked to do.”
He said he was still in gangs when he started making movies. He got out of gangs when he was about 24. The reason he got out of gangs was because his best-friend got caught with a shipment of drugs in Thunderbay, and if he didn’t have the movie he was working on, he would have been with him in the car at the time.
For him, that was a situation that made him ask himself, did he want to have a future in Hollywood, or did he want to be a statistic or that imagine that people think Native Americans are.
“It’s funny how people think of us,” he said. “Now that I travel around the world, we are pretty damn cool.”
Beach said one of the things Ross taught him was respect. It took him a while to understand what Ross meant and what he was trying to teach him, but he slowly taught him there was a traditional knowledge of respecting oneself.
“So I went to the house, there’s about 10 Indians laying on the floor,” Beach said. “You all know how that is. And he (Ross) said ‘Don’t step over anybody. I want you to walk around them.’ So I did this zigzag around everybody and in the end he asked me what I learned. ‘Not to step over anybody?’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘you learned respect of other people.’ He said that’s what I wanted to show you.”
He said he thought it was a trick at first, but then I came to learn that one of his friends gave him a little stone that saved his life. That teaching was the first teaching he ever learned.
“A lot of people like me because I can tell my story in about five minutes,” Beach said. “I know myself that well. I know my hurts and pain. Part of the reason is because I’m an actor—I have to know all that. So when I perform and you see an emotion, you know that it’s coming from me. A character that I’m playing, all those emotions are mine.”
He said he lost his parents when he was 8, so if a character he played in a movie called for that emotion, it was a real emotion that was already there.
Adam sang a song for everyone with his hand-drum, in his Native tongue—he is a member of the Ojibwa Nation in Canada, and prayed for the students. He said a song gives him clarity, a little bit of awareness to be able to talk without thinking so much.
He had a dream when he was 16 to go to Hollywood, and his friends and family said he would do better trying to get a job as a police officer, a teacher, a carpenter.
“I was the only kid in my family who didn’t do hard labor,” Beach said. “I like soft hands. I like cutting my nails.”
He said that after twenty years he could officially say that all his dreams have came true.
Beach owns 10 cable channels and instead of trying to make money with them, his plan is to build two schools in Winnipeg and one in Arizona—film schools—where he would ask two people from Red Lake to go to these schools, and set them up as independent production company, with cameras, editing suites and sound systems.
Those students then could around Red Lake and document anything they wanted to—good or bad—then they would get a half-hour on his cable network. It would be for free because he owns it.
He took questions from the audience, then spent about an hour signing autographs on his pictures and visiting with people.
Adam Beach is a very remarkable and talented actor and person and is currently filming Red Machine, a film where two estranged brothers reunite at their childhood home in the Alaskan wild. They set out on a two-day hike and are stalked by an unrelenting grizzly bear.
Other films in production include Path of Souls, Into the Americas and The Boom Boom Room.