Actor Adam Beach is known for his turns most recently in Cowboys and Aliens with Harrison Ford, along with numerous other roles in film and television. Of late he has pulled back from Hollywood to star as Bobby Martin in CBC’s Arctic Air, a drama about a family-owned First Nations airline serving remote northern communities. His impressive career also includes such performances in television and on the big screen as Ira Hayes in Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers, Detective Chester Drake in Law and Order, Squanto in The Last Great Warrior and Victor in the incredibly popular cult classic Smoke Signals, directed by Chris Eyre.
The 39-year-old Saulteaux can now add another accolade to his lengthy resume. He has received a National Aboriginal Achievement Award (since renamed the Indspire Awards), one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon a First Nations person. He co-hosted last year’s gala; this year he was on the podium. Indian Country Today Media Network got Beach to open up a little about his work and the perspective it has given him.
What does winning a National Aboriginal Achievement Award mean to you?
It is amazing to be placed on a pedestal with all of these other leaders and accomplished aboriginal people. I feel honored to be part of this club.
How do you feel about being an actor?
I love it. Acting gives me the ability to attract the minds of viewers and show them that Native people have the potential to have their dreams come true.
I’ve come into a time now where every time I wake up I am happy to have a roof over my head. I am on duty right now taking care of my 3-year-old daughter, and I am seeing what [children] can teach me as a father—how to be gentle, how to be nurturing—it is pretty simple the way I live. I am not eccentric; I am just in father/dad mode.
As a Native person with so much exposure, do you feel you have a responsibility?
This is who I am. The responsibility, the visibility and the leadership role that I have, this is what I have to be. I have stopped worrying about what people expect of me. I have found that I am in a place where I can change the perspective of what society deems fit for Native people and Native images. I have to be careful about what I do because I do understand that a lot of kids are looking up to me. I’ve made the decision to keep pushing further.
What is the passion that drives you?
For me it is cultural and traditional growth that I take part in, in my own personal life. I have a traditional pipe, I am available to help people who need guidance. I have another side to me that is out there to help people in their personal struggles. That keeps me humble [and insulated] from the [temptations of] fame and fortune that lie in Hollywood.
You’ve reached a level that few have attained. Do you feel like an educator as well as an actor?
Everybody I meet in Hollywood always asks questions about how it is to be Indian. What are my problems, what are my political points of view, where are we in society these days, or what issues do we face? When the likes of Steven Spielberg or Harrison Ford have questions, I have those answers, because they can’t and don’t really have the time to educate themselves about the history of Native peoples.
I am kind of like their inside source, which helps me realize that I have to be aware of our struggles as Native people today. I am in a position in which my voice means something. It is recognized across North America, so I better damn well educate myself about what is going on now. This includes learning about other opportunities that can help with the solutions and the struggles that Native people face.
It is okay not to know everything. I only know things that I’m capable of changing or making people aware of. Sometimes I don’t have solutions, but at least I can make people aware of the situation that can help gain the eyes and ears of people who can change it.
What are you doing these days?
I am trying to focus on creating a Native American independent studio system. I need our Native people to work together as a unified entity. We need to have a commitment to help our younger generation to understand that technology, and media is our next platform in economic development. Hopefully we can work toward that.
I have a Native network online. I own 10 channels and I’m hoping to open it up to our tribe so they can tell their stories and give voice from their own perspective. We have to teach our filmmakers how to do that.
At this point our own people are stopping us from moving forward. It is those community leaders who do not want to create change and move forward.
Do you think the youth of today can influence change in our community leaders?
That is the thing that is happening right now. It is about individual choice and individuals striving to connect with their identity. They will go find it. If nobody is nurturing them in their community, they will go elsewhere. They will go outside of their home. They will do it through any means possible. Sometimes their identity is in joining gangs. I grew up in the gang system.