It would be easier to say he is just acting - but he isn't.
He is Adam Beach of the Dog Creek Reserve in Manitoba and of Hollywood, Calif., and his acting credentials are impressive: star in Windtalkers and Flags of Our Fathers, regular on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
But so, too, are his credentials for speaking out this week as the Canadian government finally issues its official apology for the abuses caused by residential schools through two centuries.
His mother, Sally, thought she was heading for bingo when a drunk driver struck her. She might have lived had the ambulance they called not refused to come as punishment for what someone else on the reserve had done. She was eight months pregnant and had three other children, including eight-year-old Adam. She died in the arms of Dennis, the father of those three boys. A few months later, Dennis, despondent and drinking, dove into a quarry pool and never surfaced.
"Maybe he didn't want to come up," says Dennis's brother, Chris, who took over the raising of the orphaned boys.
Adam Beach did not go to residential school. His parents did not. But their parents had gone.
And the damage simply spread after that.
Two other family children taken on by Chris and Agnes Beach in Winnipeg learned last year that their mother, who had become an alcoholic and a prostitute, was now also a murder victim.
And Adam Beach himself was sexually abused - even though he never so much as set foot in one of the church-run institutions, the last of which closed down in 1996.
"I was saved," Adam Beach believes, "when my parents died and my uncle took me away to the city."
He calls his Uncle Chris "Dad" now and is himself clean and sober and safely distanced, he says, from the young teen who once considered taking his own life.
"I was born in 1972," says the young actor who was nominated this year for a Golden Globe for his work in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, "but I am still a product of the residential schools. I am a product of the effect of those schools on my family."
Adam Beach is an adherent to the theory that many natives today are suffering from a sort of post-traumatic stress disorder that has been passed down from generation to generation by those who suffered abominable abuses in the residential school system.
It is an idea that was explored in a native-made film by Georgina Lightning, Older Than America, starring, among others, Adam Beach.
One of his great regrets is that, even though he learned a smattering of Navajo to play private Ben Yahzee in Windtalkers, he cannot speak his own Anishinaabe language.
"My family never taught me my language because they were taught their language was bad and only English was good," he says. "My parents and other parents didn't want my generation to get their face slapped for speaking our own language."
This was but one of many things he believes was learned at residential school: Have contempt for your own culture, your language, yourself.
"They wanted to de-feather the Indians," says Chris Beach.
Yet nothing, Adam Beach believes, can compare to the sexual confusion and deviation that flowed from the abuse certain authority figures, not all, perpetrated on helpless native youth. He is himself a victim.
"My abuse came from people the same age and a bit older," he says haltingly.
"It came from kids. Well, where did they learn that behaviour? I didn't know then anything about that stuff. How the hell do kids know that behaviour. I was eight years old. I didn't know.
"There is a lot of learned behaviour from the residential schools."
The sexual abuse led to early teenage thoughts of suicide as the only way he could see to "break this thread of despair." He was being cared for by his grandmother, a residential school product, but it wasn't working out.
Chris Beach, who had married and moved to Winnipeg, says he was awakened one morning by his brother Dennis standing at the end of the bed shaking his foot.
" Take care of my boys!" the older brother pleaded.
'But how could he be there?' the younger brother wondered: Dennis had drowned five years earlier.
"Was it real - or was it a dream?" he still wonders.
No matter, the experience sent Chris north to the Dog Creek Reserve, where he took his three nephews under his arm and moved them back to Winnipeg, where young Adam eventually found a high-school drama class and, still later, Hollywood found him.
"He saved my life," the actor says of the uncle who became his father. "He taught me how to cry, how to express my emotions and how not to let my past be a burden."
"There's a lot of brokenness in aboriginal communities," says Chris Beach. "You can let it destroy you, or you can sift through the rubble in search of treasure."
Adam Beach believes he found that hidden treasure the day he learned to respect himself.
"It all starts with respecting yourself - and our people lost that. This circle of violence must stop with ourselves. I must be able to say, 'I forgive myself.' "
To that end, he plans on beginning a Sundance fast this fall - fasting for four days each year for four straight years - and hopes to hold his first one on Parliament Hill.
He also plans to launch a project that would see the memories of elders videotaped across the country.
"The truth lies in the voices of our people," he says, "not in what was put on paper by priests and others. What was written down on paper took our voice away."
The personal truth he has already given to his own two sons, 12-year-old Noah and 10-year-old Luke, who now "know everything about my life to the point where they're bored of it now." But there will be more talk this week, once Prime Minister Stephen Harper issues the official government apology for what happened at many of those schools.
"The government has to do the apology right," he says. "It can't be just, 'We're sorry ... bye.' It has to take 100 years of residential schools and assimilation into account so that the elders who are dying and will die in the next 10 years can finally cry and forgive themselves.
"I want them to be able to go to their graves knowing our younger generation is never going to continue this circle of abuse again."
Adam Beach says there is no point in going into vast detail on the sexual and physical abuse. That part, he says, is well known. What is less understood, he says, is the first wrong of the residential schools.
"I just want to say it is wrong for anyone to go into a family kitchen and say, 'We are taking your children.' That is the first and original crime.
"That is the worst - and we are all the result of that."