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Beach family brings suicide prevention message to Native youth with 'Kigeet'

OKLAHOMA CITY - Native youth on the Sunday morning of the annual UNITY conference in Oklahoma City emptied their seats after Adam Beach's performance in ''Kigeet'' to meet the Beach family: adoptive father Christopher, Adam and Adam's siblings Fletcher and Kylene. It began as a trickle, but then extended into a long line.

But it wasn't just for a chance to meet the Saulteaux/Ojibwa actor. These youth lined up out of a sense of hurt, pain and a need for healing, as the smell of burning sage and the sounds of memorial songs filled the room. Spiritual leaders were present to bless and pray for these young people, and four counselors were on hand to give youth a chance to speak to someone about being affected by suicide either directly or indirectly.

It was this message of awareness and healing that the Beach family brought with them from Canada through Christopher Beach's multimedia play ''Kigeet,'' which means ''Your Arse.'' The play was performed twice earlier this year in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Adam Beach's performance at the UNITY conference is essentially the play's U.S. debut. It is a sequel to a play written by Christopher Beach, ''Pishiki Joe Blow.''

In ''Kigeet,'' the central character, Joe, attempts to commit suicide, and has conversations with many people throughout his life who are portrayed on-screen, including his deceased parents and the Creator, who is portrayed by Adam Beach as a character known as ''Energy.''

Christopher Beach wrote the play based a foster kid named ''Joey'' who he cared for at one time. Unlike the character Joe, who survives at the end, the real-life Joey hanged himself under a bridge in Winnipeg.

''I thought that I would write something to try and help other youth deal with situations they might be caught in a different way other than killing themselves,'' Beach said.

Christopher Beach, who teaches sixth, seventh and eighth grade in Canada and performs as a singer/songwriter, has worked with youth for the past 20 years. For him, the key to working with youth is to give them a sense of culture and family.

''One of the things I find is getting them to connect back to family,'' Christopher Beach said. ''Where I come from, there's such a big disconnection between families - the elders, the youth - there seems to be this big wide gap. Take back the cultural aspects that were taken from them.''

For Adam Beach, the role of tough-minded Joe is a natural fit. As a public figure, Beach has always been open about the events of his life, such as his biological parents' death when he was eight years old, being a victim of childhood sexual abuse and being a teenage gang member. Beach said that he uses his experiences as a way of reaching out to youth so they can identify with him.

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''The best way to reach out to them, I've found, was being honest and open and being personal, and really telling them who I really am,'' Beach said. ''Not just the facade of being a Hollywood actor; really letting them know I come from the second-worst neighborhood in Canada, and my trials and tribulations with my life has been a tough battle with regards to sexual abuse when I was younger, the death of my parents, and just the overall feeling of abandonment. If we can reach out to the younger generation to help them speak for themselves, and not just hide that anger and aggression, we won't have to catch them when it's too late. A lot of what we did at the UNITY conference was allow them to understand that we have to open up and talk to people to help other people cope with a lot of their healing that needs to be done.''

There was a point in time in Beach's life where he believed that he wouldn't live past 28 years - the same age that his parents had died. Now that he is in his early 30s, he said his perspective has definitely changed. He is married and a father of two sons, and since his breakout role to American audiences as Victor Joseph in ''Smoke Signals,'' he has played Ben Yahzee in ''Windtalkers,'' Ira Hayes in ''Flags of Our Fathers,'' Jim Chee in the PBS adaptations of Tony Hillerman's novels and, more recently, as Charles ''Ohiyesa'' Eastman in ''Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.''

''My huge outlook on life has changed in the past two years because I've been telling everybody I've been living a dream,'' Beach said. ''All my dreams and aspirations have come true with regards to acting and having a great family - kids, et cetera. This new journey that I'm on, I really want to be able to motivate and help other people achieve the same success that I have in regards to chasing their dreams and having help to successfully make it.''

Much of his inspiration comes not only from his father Chris and his wife and children, but also from the actor who originally inspired and still inspires him: Johnny Depp.

''Johnny Depp has been my acting influence until now and still now,'' Beach said. ''His integrity is bar none out of this world, and he takes risks with his characters. That really tests his acting levels.''

Still, Beach has yet to meet Depp, and is looking forward to doing so.

''I'm sure I'll meet him one of these days and - you know - cry and tell him he changed my life,'' Beach said as he laughed.

Most recently, Beach joined the cast of ''Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,'' where he will play Detective Chester Lake from Brooklyn, a character that Beach describes as ''very witty, very emotionally attached to all of the crimes,'' he said. ''He doesn't like it when people undermine him or question his authority.'' Lake will be a partner to Ice-T's character, Detective Odafin Tutuola, and Beach and Ice-T are also working on creating a production company together. ''We're going to diversify some film ideas that we have,'' Beach said.

When not shooting on ''SVU'' or movie projects, Beach wants to continue working with youth, hoping to eventually take the family message of ''Kigeet'' to both Broadway and many other Native communities.

''I'm just trying in my off time to just hit certain places, different reservations that I could share my life and experiences now, and just let them know that I care,'' he said. ''I'm going to work out strategies to open the doors for them, to find their aspirations and hopefully make their dreams come true.''