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Tapping Potential: Harvey McCue and a Career of First Nation Education

Trent alumnus and member of the Board joins federal task force on education bill

Tapping Potential: Harvey McCue and a Career of First Nation Education
Tapping Potential: Harvey McCue and a Career of First Nation Education

After decades of investing himself in the betterment of First Nations education, Harvey McCue can finally see a plan in place for improved federal responsibility. As a matter of fact, he is helping put this plan in place.

The Trent University graduate, instructor, and current member of the Trent University Board of Governors has been named to a task force charged with facilitating on-reserve education reform through new legislation. The group, a joint-panel commissioned by the federal government and the Assembly of First Nations, will be instrumental in crafting the First Nations Education Act, to be introduced in 2014.

Mr. McCue is a natural choice for the task force. In 1969, he co-founded Trent’s Native Studies department (originally the Indian Eskimo Studies Program) along with Trent University’s founding president, Professor Tom Symons, where he taught for 14 years.

He then moved to northern Quebec to take on the role of director of Education Services for the Cree School Board – a post he held for five years.

“It was a very hands-on position,” recalls Mr. McCue. “I was responsible for the administration of principals and vice-principals, as well as for teacher training. We brought in quite a bit in the way of new techniques and tackled quite a few pedagogical issues.  A major area of emphasis was Cree culture and Cree language and their use and effect on curriculum.”

In 1988, he served as the director of Policy and Research, Education Branch, at Indian and Northern Affairs in Ottawa. Two years later, he became the director general.

“It was a tense time for First Nations people across Canada, and for the Department of Indian Affairs,” notes McCue. “Among other things, the Oka Crisis erupted.”

During that crisis, he joined several First Nations employees in creating an in-house advisory committee to counsel the senior officers embroiled in negotiations.

In 1993, he accepted the position of executive director and director of Education of the Mi’kmaq Education Authority in Nova Scotia – a position he held for two years.

Most recently, he has worked in Ottawa as a consultant on Aboriginal issues.

According to Mr. McCue, the First Nations Education Act is direly needed.

“There is no question that First Nations youth represent an enormous potential to this county,” he says, “and there is no question that this opportunity is being squandered. Over half of First Nations people are under the age of 30. This means that there are huge numbers of youth that should currently be part of our educational system. If the majority of them continue to leave school after grade nine or grade ten, then we’ll have lost some incredible social and economic potential.”

He is hoping that legislation will lead to lower drop-out rates, an increase in on-reserve infrastructure, and a more culturally pertinent curriculum.

“I would like to see First Nations regional school boards that act as the equivalent of existing public and private school boards,” he explains, “and that these boards ensure provincial equivalency, in the same way that other boards do. I think there also needs to be a federal emphasis on First Nations educational funding and infrastructure.”

Mr. McCue is hopeful that the task force will make for lasting and meaningful change.

“It’s going to be a long process,” he admits, “first getting the legislation passed and then for its effects to bear fruit. While we hope that there will be some immediate impact of the bill, it might be a decade or two before some of the long-term effects are felt.”

Posted on Thursday, September 27, 2012.

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