Adam Beach brought American Indian star power to UNC Pembroke’s Givens Performing Arts Center on November 29.
The 38-year-old actor, who starred in the films “Smoke Signals” and “Windtalkers” and television programs “Hawaii 5-0” and “Law and Order SVU,” offered up song, drumming, humor and a powerful message of growing up Indian in America.
An appreciative audience of approximately 700 attended the performance, which marked Native American Heritage Month at UNCP. Groups came from Hoke, Cumberland and Columbus counties, NC State and NC Central universities.
A member of the Ojibwa Nation, Beach said his message was “unscripted,” and he gave a free flowing account of his spiritual transformation.
“Whenever I speak in front of crowds or to my children or friends, I come unscripted,” Beach said. “I always challenge myself to open my heart, my mind and my spirit to work together to bring something that will lead you to a better life or to question the life you lead now and will take you to a better place.”
Beach used a drumstick as a conductor might through much of his speech. He told an hour-long story of an abused child of deceased parents who became a successful actor.
“Nothing can ever take us away from our past; nothing can take us away from who we are as a people,” he said. “Our ancestors were doing something right back in the day.
“That’s why I use the past as a powerful tool to speak to you now,” he said.
His introduction included a drum song, which he said was to “clear my mind.” Beach said it was a spiritual connection that helped him “journey from nothing to something.”
He grew up in the bad section of Winnipeg, Canada, with an uncle after the death of his 8-month pregnant mother at the hands of a drunk driver and the drowning death of his drunken father shortly afterward. Beach credited his uncle, acting, and a spiritual advisor with helping him break out of a violent life on the streets.
“I am still that little boy,” he said. “Acting gave me an escape. I loved it because it took me away from my life at that time.
“I became this tank that overcame every barrier,” Beach said. “Here I am - a guy people look up to, a guy with a past.”
Beach described his acting journey from high school musicals to his famous role as Victor Joseph in the award-winning “Smoke Signals.” With an Indian name – Leading Bear Man – a “vision quest,” a sacred stone, a hawk feather and tobacco, he connected himself with Native traditions that served as the touchstone of his resurrection.
For his audience, which was nearly all American Indian young people, he offered a hopeful message.
“Don’t allow anyone to say you can’t be something because of your color or because of where you are from,” he said. “If ever you feel down or not strong, close your eyes and think about how we as a people were able to honor everything.”
Beach said he wanted everybody’s “dream to come true; every opportunity fulfilled.”
“It’s up to you as an individual to motivate yourself, to challenge yourself to climb that mountain and to be able to sit on top and say, ‘hey, what do I do next?’ because there are other mountains out there.
“That sounded pretty cool, eh!” he laughed.
The second hour of Beach’s performance included questions and answers and autograph signing. The audience also went unscripted, and Beach obliged requests for hugs and gave a proposal of “marriage” on one knee.
“I propose that you challenge yourself in a way that when I come back that I have inspired you to reach your potential,” he said. “Be Indian and be proud.”
With that, a long line of autograph seekers formed.
UNCP’s Distinguished Speaker Series is free to the public. It continues on February 21, with gay activist Judy Shepard, and actor Hill Harper on April 26.