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Community Champion: Gary Bonneau gives hand up to community living with addiction

‘I’ve learned about the history of our band and some of the reasons why we are where we are today,’ former OKIB councilman says
Gary Bonneau is the Community Champion for November 2020. (Contributed)

Gary Bonneau is an empathetic, compassionate and kind man. He has a welcome smile, a calm demeanour and a good sense of humour.

These qualities have been crucial to the longevity of his service in the addictions continuum of care for both outpatient and residential programs.

Bonneau has helped many people over the years with either having a life of sobriety, celebrating a life well-lived, or by being there to hold space with someone in one of their darkest moments. He has spent 32 years supporting individuals on their road to recovery from addiction, trauma, grief and all the associated impacts upon families and communities.

Although a trained addictions counsellor working in the field, there was a period in his life when he himself was drinking too much and assuming he was hiding it well. A treatment counsellor suggested he participate in the addictions program to help understand what his clients experience in their recovery.

Bonneau humbly realized the irony of the situation and said, “It made me look at some issues in life that I didn’t want to acknowledge, I believe it was one of the best things I ever did.”

It was also an opportunity to meet Marjorie Mackie, a residential addictions counsellor, who changed his life. One of Mackie’s profound statements opened Bonneau’s eyes and guided both his life and his work: “Even the tiniest light will overpower the darkness; let that light be you.”

With her understanding and encouragement, he was able to make the changes necessary to help himself. Later, after receiving training at Okanagan College, Bonneau worked as an addictions counsellor at the Round Lake Treatment Centre for 12 years, helping others on their road to sobriety.

As a result of serving two terms on council from 1993-97.

“I’ve learned about the history of our band and some of the reasons why we are where we are today,” Bonneau said.

Bonneau is proud of his sqilxw heritage and is equally proud to share it with others.

He’s worked at several jobs before joining the Okanagan Indian Band as an addictions worker in June of 1999.

He also was a member of the Okanagan Nation Response Team where he helped support members who experienced traumatic events by providing de-briefing, grief support, suicide ideation prevention and more.

There are many people who have been helped by Bonneau’s encouragement and who have gone on to a strong recovery.

Bonneau has been gratified to see those he worked with achieve their goals such as full-time employment, completing their GED testing, or entering post-secondary programs. Many have also been able to strengthen their family and community relationships, find their own passion in life and make other life-changing experiences.

The dedication Bonneau has to his work and his contribution to the community is immeasurable.

The monthly Community Champion feature is submitted by Respect Works Here, which is an initiative of the Social Planning Council of the North Okanagan. They are also the host agency for the Local Immigration Partnership Council and the Thompson Okanagan Respect Network.

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