Actor Adam Beach headlines UNO’s John Trudell lecture series

Adam Beach
Actor and activist Adam Beach discussed the importance of tradition and beliefs during the John Trudell Lecture Series at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Respect. It’s the Native American way, says actor Adam Beach.

“To be or not to be Indian. People ask me what that means,” Beach said during a talk for the John Trudell Lecture Series at the University of Nebraska at Omaha Friday. “Our teaching is respect. When I look back, the most important thing is family…”

The Canadian actor and activist addressed an overflow crowd of more than 470 people during the third annual lecture series, which is named after my brother.

Beach shared his personal history, from childhood tragedy to his embrace of traditional customs and beliefs. The Saulteaux Anishinaabe tribal member lost his parents when he was eight years old. Growing up, he witnessed drug abuse and suicides.

As he matured, he realized he needed to embrace tribal beliefs. He sought guidance in traditional ways. He found meaning in messages being sent him, Beach said. For instance, he told his traditional teacher he needed a song. He was told to feed Inktomi, a spiritual spider and it will help him find his song. He blew it off.

One day his wife told him there was a fly in the bathroom (she had overheard his conversation), and he replied she should kill it. “You need to feed the spider,” she responded. Oh yeah, he thought. So, he went into the bathroom, caught the fly, found a spider web and tossed the fly on to the web.

Days later, his step-father came to him in a dream and told him his song, Beach said. The actor became emotional telling the story because he misses his step-father.

Adam Beach talking
Once he embraced his traditions, Beach felt connected.

As he ages, spirituality grew important, he said. “I look at how we were,” Beach said. “We’re spiritual. Our women are powerful. Our elders are powerful.”

Traditional beliefs help Indians today. History hasn’t presented an accurate history of Native Americans.

“When I grew up, Indians were awful,” Beach said. “Now, we’re amazing people.”

‘Human Beings’

John sought respect among Native Americans, Beach said. My brother said we are more than Native Americans. We’re more than the First People. We are the Human Beings.

“We need to follow his journey,” Beach said. “He was one person, but touched many lives.”

As he grew to embrace his beliefs, Beach’s friends nicknamed him “Hollywood Indian.” It’s a compliment because “I love who I am,” he said.

Adam Beach looking at the audience
Beach supports issues that are important to Native Americans.

Beach campaigns against cultural appropriation in Hollywood – non-Indians being cast as Native American characters.

To combat that, Beach and his wife created their own film school. The Adam Beach Film Institute provides Native American students a four-month program to learn all facets of the entertainment industry – writing, production, acting, as well as directing and more.

Another issue important to him is “Idle No More.” The movement, started by Canadian Indian women, supports women’s rights. The movement continues to grow, Beach said.

Santee drum group

Prior to Beach’s presentation, The Santee Sioux drum group Maza Kute performed traditional songs. It was the second consecutive year that John’s favorite drum group performed for the lecture series.

Santee Sioux drum group plays
Santee Sioux Maza Kute drum group performed during the lecture series.

Ponca member Taylor Keen opened the talk with a prayer.

Prayer being offeredTaylor Keen delivered the opening prayer.

I was honored to represent our family in providing closing remarks for the lecture. I thanked Adam, Taylor and Kent, as well as Maza Kute, for a wonderful evening honoring our brother.

Tim Trudell addressing the group
I was honored to represent our family in delivering closing remarks.

Following the presentation, our family was honored being gifted photos of John speaking during the occupation of Alcatraz Island in the late 1960s. That sparked our brother’s journey to his role as leader for the people’s campaign for respect and equal treatment.

Photo of John Trudell during his time at Alcatraz Island.
Photo of John during his time at Alcatraz Island.

The Trudell series was created and managed by Kent Blansett of UNO’s Indian Studies program. Kent puts in several hours in organizing the event, which has grown from 35 attendees the first year to 171 last year and this year’s 470.

Kent Blansett during his welcoming and introduction of Adam Beach.
Kent Blansett during his welcoming and introduction of Adam Beach.

You can listen to the full lecture: