Dr. Evan Adams garners national award for work in indigenous health

Actor Evan Adams is best known for his iconic role in the film Smoke Signals opposite Adam Beach. His alter ego Dr. Evan Adams is B.C.’s deputy provincial health officer responsible for indigenous health.

Find out how Indspire Award recipient went from iconic role in Smoke Signals to beloved 'Dr. E.'

Dr. Evan Adams began his professional life as an actor, known for his 1998 role as Thomas Builds-the-fire in the feature-film 'Smoke Signals.' He then made a hard decision to put medical school ahead of acting. Adams is nominated for a 2014 Indspire award in the field of medicine.

Actor Evan Adams is best known for his iconic role of Thomas Builds-The-Fire in the film Smoke Signals opposite Adam Beach. His alter ego Dr. Evan Adams is B.C.’s deputy provincial health officer responsible for indigenous health. So how does one go from an actor to a doctor or a better question is why?

His family upbringing definitely had an influence over his decision to pursue post-secondary education.  Adams says his siblings all have jobs where they help people so his sense of service springs from them.

“I really wanted a practical skill that wasn’t related to being ‘presentational’,” he says, thinking he could pursue acting while going to med school. But the moment came when he was forced to choose being a doctor over being an actor.

Adams as Thomas Builds-the-fire in Smoke Signals (1998). (Smoke Signals / Miramax Pictures / Youtube)
Adams rationalized that he could postpone course to star in the lead role of a BBC production, but the Dean of Medicine had a different perspective.

"He said ‘every lead role is a chance of a lifetime'," explains Adams. "‘Being a doctor is a chance of a lifetime,’ and he denied my request for leave. I was crushed…but in my heart, I knew he was right. If I didn't become a doctor, that would be a loss I would have to carry for the rest of my life.”  

Commitment to community is inspiring

The Indspire Awards:

  • Recognize outstanding career and youth achievements in the aboriginal community.
  • Formerly known as the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards.
  • 14 laureates will be honoured on Friday, March 21 at the Centennial Concert Hall, Winnipeg.

Adams is a recipient of an Indspire Award that will be handed out March 21 in Winnipeg. 

The Sliammon First Nation member believes in a holistic approach to health care.

“There is an ongoing need for help with people’s bodies, minds and spirits,” he says, adding,  “The legacy of colonization has left many of us in need of help.”

The need for reconciliation between the First Nations people of this land and Canadians is something close to his heart. His parents met in residential school.  

Dr. Evan Adams has a holistic approach to health care.
Affectionately known as Dr. E, Adams’ commitment to his community is inspiring. It’s obvious that the 47-year-old is passionate about his work and cares beyond the typical doctor-patient relationship.
Last fall, Adams co-emceed the Walk for Reconciliation in Vancouver, which drew 10,000 people. His co-host was Shelagh Rogers, from CBC’s The Next Chapter.  She said it was pouring rain that day, the mood was sombre, but Adams was still able to illicit laughter from the crowd.  “(It) was like hanging with a rock star,” says Rogers. “He has to be one of the most loved people on the planet.”

“I get to make a difference at a very important part of people's lives, when they are suffering or in need. It's a privilege mostly,” says Adams.  

Still in the spotlight 

The actor turned doctor has not given up the entertainment spotlight all together though. In fact, he is combining his show business know-how with his medical training. Adams is hosting a pilot called The Dr. E Show.

“(It’s) about the art of health and wellness from an Indigenous perspective,” he explains. “It's been fun reminding people about their health in a show format!” 

Adams also imitates life in art on the CBC show Arctic Air with a cameo appearance.  Adams plays a doctor on the April 1st episode of the series. Executive producer Jon Cooksey said he has a gentle presence that really comes across on the screen.  
Thomas and Victor singing 'John Wayne's Tooth' on the bus, in the classic feature 'Smoke Signals.' (Miramax)

Beach, the star of Arctic Air, explains what it was like to share some screen time with Adams again: "It was like meeting a lost brother."   

“When we rehearsed the first scene it was a big laugh,” says Beach. “ He was reading from another scene and us actors were confused and thought he had done a re-write because he sounded really good and he is obviously the expert in that field,” Beach laughs at the memory.  “We didn’t question him. Evan laughed and apologized.”   

 “We all have to make time for things that are fun, constructive and somewhat fulfilling,” he explains from his holidays in Hawaii.  The thespian in Adams calls acting a harmless hobby.

It’s that balance between the medical and acting worlds that help guide Adams to live the best life he can.

“It can be a long journey from the beginning of trying to do well to the end of your days and it's very easy to [lose] credibility in between.”

The Indspire Award that will sit in his home or office will be a reminder to him of where he has been and where he is going. He calls it a ‘thank you’ and encouragement towards ongoing effort.  


Kim Wheeler is an Anishinabe/Mohawk. She is a writer and an award-winning producer living in Winnipeg. Her work on the CBC radio series ReVision Quest garnered a New York Festival silver medal and two ImagineNative awards. Wheeler currently works as an associate producer for the CBC Aboriginal Digital Unit and Unreserved on CBC Radio One.