Celebrating their 13th year, the Nuxalk Nation’s Snxlhh Transition House’s annual Walk of Hope featured an impressive turnout and a special guest: Hollywood movie star Adam Beach.
The Transition House has been operational since 1998, offering safe shelter to women experiencing abuse and various counseling and educational outreach programs aimed at stopping family violence. The Walk of Hope is their annual event intended to raise awareness around violence, in particular violence against women.
Successful First Nations actor Adam Beach was brought in as a motivational speaker to coincide with the Walk of Hope and the first local students’ completion of the Chemical Addictions Worker Certificate Program, known as CHAD.
Thirteen students have completed the first portion of the certificate program, offered by the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, through Lip’alhayc College. Beach’s presence, aimed mainly at the youth, was part of the celebration of these achievements.
Graduates of the CHAD program offered presentations on their experiences, which were overwhelmingly positive. Graduate Ron Schooner, who presented on addiction, said the program changed his life.
“It’s time to end the cycle of trauma and abuse because we turn to addiction to cope,” said Schooner. “These addictions cause more hurt and problems in the long run, we need to take it on, one by one.”
Joyce Webber, who presented on Self, Health, and Wellness, spoke from the heart about how the program opened her eyes to the effects trauma had on her own life. “We need to decolonize our minds,” said Webber. “Tell your kids you love them, show them affection. Residential school took so much away, it’s time to take it back.”
The CHAD program’s community presentation included booths from Bella Coola Community Support Society, Bella Coola Home and Community Care, the Snxlhh Transition House, RCMP, Tsow-Tun- Le Lum, Lip’alhayc College, the Nuxalk Nation, and First Nations Health.
“I think the most important thing we learned is that the healing needs to take place here,” said graduate Nola Mack. “We need to do it together, in our territory, in our home.”
It was within that spirit of healing that Beach, who spent three days in Bella Coola, shared his personal story of childhood trauma, loss, and abuse, and how he overcame these challenges to enjoy a successful Hollywood career as an actor.
Born on the Dog Creek First Nation in Manitoba, Beach lost both his parents within months of each another. His mother, eight months pregnant at the time, was hit by a drunk driver outside his home. His grief-stricken father drowned eight weeks later.
“Losing my parents, the people I loved most in the world, changed everything,” Beach shared. “I lost all my fear because I had nothing left to lose; it had already been taken from me.”
Beach and his two brothers were initially sent to live with their grandparents, and later on with their aunt and uncle in Winnipeg. It was during his teen years that Beach was surrounded by alcohol and drugs and hanging out in gangs. It all could have gone very differently if he hadn’t found his culture.
“The Anishinabe spiritual teachings are what give me my strength,” said Beach, sharing his sacred cultural items with the crowd. “I carry them with me wherever I go.”
Beach went on to pursue acting, landing his first major role at age 16. He never looked back, going on to star in independent indigenous films (Smoke Signals) and massive Hollywood blockbusters (Cowboys and Aliens). Most recently, Beach starred as Bobby Martin in CBC’s popular series, Arctic Air.
“Acting was my way out,” Beach explained. “There is a world out there: challenge yourself and let you passion motivate you and go seek it out.”
Beach is now taking his passion across Canada. His new project, Bandwidth, aims to bring first-run and independent movies to reserves across the country through the concept of ‘pop-up cinema.’
Beach premiered the first theatre two weeks ago in the community of Brokenhead First Nation about 65 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg. But there are plans to bring pop-up theatres to other communities, including Norway House First Nation and back to Bella Coola.
“This is something that can bring people together,” Beach said. “And now we have an opportunity to share more aboriginal films, so we’re basically creating a bigger market for native film. But also, we are now being able to bring the world to these communities.”
The Nuxalk community celebrated Beach’s presence with a potluck supper and an evening of cultural celebration and dancing, with a strong focus on honouring the youth. Beach was showered with traditional gifts and honoured with a Nuxalk name: Micmiklh kulhuuts (literal translation: Star Beach). Hundreds of star-struck fans flocked to Beach to get their photo taken or an autograph.
Dorothy Pootlass, who spearheaded the initiative to bring in Beach with her husband, Archie, said she was inspired by his story and felt he could relate to the community.
“I was taken in by his ability to accomplish what he was doing,” Pootlass said. “I felt our community would benefit from bringing someone in from outside who is doing something so positive.”
Alongside the contributions of the Nuxalk Nation, Beach’s expenses were heavily sponsored with community donations from Pacific Coastal, the Bella Coola Valley Inn, the Nuxalk Nation, WLDCU, Tru Value, the Hagensborg Shop Easy, Lip’alhayc College, Barton Insurance, and the RCMP.