Sempulyan Stewart Gonzales takes APTN News for a walk through Stanley Park in Vancouver – a place he used to call home.
“When I lived here I lived with my brother-in-law. We were both doing whatever he was doing, crack cocaine, I was doing crystal meth but we lived at the same camp for a number of years but I felt so lost,” he told APTN. “Absolutely lost I didn’t know where my life was going to go.”
Gonzales was only seven-years-old when he was taken to residential school along with his brother.
He said the intense trauma and horror of being abused on a daily basis left the now 61-year-old with a lifetime of hurt.
After losing his wife of 28 years, he said the pain, along with his childhood trauma, drove him to homelessness and addiction.
Gonzales said it was elders from his community of the Squamish Nation that took him to a treatment centre and saved his life.
Now, he said he’s been sober since 2007 and is now an elected councillor. He’s also the proud father of three, grandfather of 11, and great-grandfather of 13.
He said it’s taken him years but forgiveness was the only way to truly heal from his past.
“I needed to forgive them to set me free so they no longer live rent-free in my head,” he said. “I can honestly say I’m at peace.
“You know when I met the Pope and I spoke with the Pope it brought my healing journey to a new level.”