It’s not often you see a classroom of children sleeping peacefully under cedar trees. But Cathy Kahontison Guimond, who has seen countless Kahnawa’kehró:non pass through Step By Step Child and Family Center, still remembers the sight.
“A plow had come and knocked down those cedar trees, so we carried them into the school and put them in our classroom, and the kids slept under it,” she said. “The class smelled so good, it was like they were in the forest sleeping. I told them that this is what it’s like when you sleep outside. We just did everything outside. I’d point out the window and say, ‘That’s your classroom.’”
It’s one of many memories that stand out to Guimond of Step by Step, where she worked for over 25 years helping the community’s children take their first steps in learning about the world.
“I started taking my son there because he was having trouble speaking, and I didn’t want to just let him go so I ended up staying there. And then they just kept me,” she remembered. “I enjoyed it. I loved all kids. They’re all equal to me.”
When she saw that Step by Step was celebrating its 40th anniversary with a beading challenge, Guimond knew she would be getting involved. She decided to bead a decorative work commemorating the organization’s commitment to Kahnawake’s children, that she has since decided to permanently gift to Step by Step. A template was provided by Tammy Kahnáhne Standup, who’s previous beading challenges inspired the format of this one.
“I wanted it colourful and bright, because that’s what the whole school is to me,” said Guimond of her piece, which features swirling flowers, children playing, and the dates 1983 and 2023 to mark the 40 year anniversary. She chose to make the large flower in the centre of the piece white to show the purity of the children, and the primary-colour stitching on the outside border adds to the childlike feel of the piece’s colour palette. “Children are all colourful in their own ways,” she added.
Step by Step executive director Natalie Beauvais has been touched and overwhelmed by the quality of submissions for the 40th anniversary beadwork challenge. The challenge has been so popular that Step by Step received multiple pleas for extensions, prompting them to announce that the deadline has been moved from this week to June 19.
“The feelings that I get everytime we receive a new item, it’s just awesome,” said Beauvais. She explained that though the project is technically a “challenge,” there will be no formal winners, a purposeful move in the spirit of Step by Step’s mission. “We’re embracing every submission just as we do the children’s individuality. There’s goodness and amazing effort put in by each and every beader, every artist.”
Another special submission that the organization recently received came from the students at Karihwanoron, who decided to colour in the beading template. This submission was particularly moving, since many of those students had previously attended Step by Step.
“The administrator came in and said, ‘Listen, they didn’t bead this, but look what they did!’ and I had goosebumps. I mean, how precious is this!” Beauvais said. “It’s rippling, people from the community are knowing what we’re doing and this is just a wonderful representation of the 40 years of Step by Step.”
To have the community show up for Step by Step has meant a lot to staff, and Beauvais acknowledged the impact that the organization has on the community’s youngest minds. She also emphasized that it takes a village to raise a child, and the community’s ongoing trust in that sentiment is special.
“It’s emotional when we talk about the work we do here, because we’re entrusted with people’s most precious gifts: we have their children,” she explained. She highlighted the work of the seven original mothers, who founded Step by Step in Kahnawake in 1983 as an inclusive learning centre.
“Everything that we do on a daily basis comes from those original seven mothers and what they wished for their children,” Beauvais said. She mentioned that individuals have also been sharing photographs in celebration of the centre’s anniversary.
“To be a part of all this, and see people excited to share, hearing this laughter and this joy, it’s all wonderful.”