CBC’s Duncan McCue talks his long-standing career at CBC and new CBC podcast series- KUPER ISLAND.

Meet Duncan McCue, the established Canadian television and radio journalist who has won awards for his work in the investigative space.

Most recently, McCue is the host of KUPER ISLAND, a podcast series on residential schools for CBC Podcasts. As Anishinaabe, a member of the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation in southern Ontario, McCue speaks to the history of Indigenous communities through his work for the CBC platform.

Keep reading to learn all about McCue, his long-standing career at CBC, KUPER ISLAND, and more.

Tell us about your long-standing career at CBC News and your passion for investigative journalism.

I’ve been with CBC now for over 20 years, and I’ve primarily been a documentary and features reporter. I started out with “The National” on the television side, and that’s where I built my career. However, 4 years ago, I shifted over to radio and hosting “Cross-Country Check-up” which I adore but I really missed documentary work, so when this opportunity arose to work on the KUPER ISLAND podcast, I was excited.
I think there’s so much appetite right now for residential school stories, and investigative podcasts seem to be an important way to share that history with people who are craving context and understanding. It’s not as if Canadians and Americans can’t find out the history of residential schools in this country- there’s plenty of material- we have a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that’s done exhaustive work in this area, plus there are available movies, novels and history books. However, the explosion of podcasting over the past couple of years combined with true crime stories has created a new market for new media. If you look at this burgeoning market and mode of storytelling, there isn’t much in the way of residential school content. If people last summer heard about unmarked graves at residential schools for the first time and they’re podcast listeners looking to find out more, there weren’t many podcasts that would offer that. I thought this was an excellent opportunity to reach new audiences with an investigative podcast about residential schools.

How have your background and experiences inspired your journey in journalism and the stories you’ve covered in the past, as well as will cover in the future?

I’m Anishinaabe, from a small First Nation in southern Ontario, and I’ve always been proud of being known as an Indigenous journalist. I don’t see the two as separate- I’m proud of being Anishinaabe and being a journalist.  The two things are combined.

I got into the business of journalism to share Indigenous stories. I didn’t hear our stories being told on the nightly newscast or on the front page of newspapers and I wanted to change that. When mainstream media did cover mainstream news, it was often simply about tragedy or conflict. I wanted to be part of that change by sharing the broader stories from our communities that I thought Canadians needed to hear.

I’m happy to say there has been a large change since I started and there are now many Indigenous and non-Indigenous journalists who are doing that work and finally starting to have some basic cultural competency when it comes to reporting in our communities. We’re starting to see more Indigenous stories. To me, that was always one of the main reasons that drove me in terms of the kinds of news that I was interested in reporting. I wanted to make sure we had proper representation in the news.

You’re the host of KUPER ISLAND, which is an eight-part podcast on residential schools for CBC Podcasts. Can you talk to us about the show, your role in uncovering the dark history that took place at the Kuper Island Residential School, and what we can expect from it?

So, last summer, when it seemed like there was announcement after announcement about unmarked graves at various residential schools, I had reported in BC for over 20 years for CBC and heard a lot of bad things about Kuper Island. When the community of Penelakut announced that there were unmarked graves there as well, at the Kuper Island School, I figured it was important for Canadians to hear about this particular school It is particularly notorious, as there was a high death rate at the school in the first 30 years of the school’s existence where nearly 40% o the children died. This was a school that children were trying to escape from throughout its history yet it was on an island. That’s why survivors have taken to referring to it as Alcatraz.

Through all of this history- painful history- for the community of Penelakut, we thought that it would be important for Canadians to hear what happened, and it would also help illustrate the broader picture of not only how the children were neglected during their lives and years at the schools, but, also how they were neglected in their deaths. That’s what we were trying to do with the podcast and through the voices of survivors.

In the first episode, I make reference to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous listeners. Some of the reactions we’re getting from our listeners are that hearing these stories is difficult, and it is dark. However, they are still recommending it to family and friends because it’s important for Canadians to know this.

During the show, you expose undisclosed police investigations. confront perpetrators of abuse, and witness a community trying to rebuild on top of the old school’s ruins as well as the unmarked graves of Indigenous children. Why was it important for you to share this story?

I have been reporting on residential schools for a long tie and I keep learning more. When Episode 3 came out, we uncovered a police report from 1939, where one of the officers from a local police department was rounding up runaways. 6 boys had fled from the island in a canoe trying to get back home. Police officers were essential truant officers who had to round up children who escaped and bring them back to the school.

This officer, instead of just gathering up the boys, asked them why they ran away. They told the cop about the sexual abuse they were experiencing at the school. The officer then started interviewing other children from the school and gathered 50 statements about the sexual abuse they were facing. To make a long story short, this investigation ended up being shelved. Indian affairs and the Catholic Church removed two staff from the school and took them out of the province so they couldn’t face criminal charges- all because they were worried about the reputation of the school. As a result of that, it was covered up and decades later, children continued to suffer sexual abuse at this school.

It was hard to learn about the details and the complicity of the Federal Government and the church in allowing children to continue to die. Canadians knew this and continued. These are difficult things to keep finding out but I just feel like we are not going to be able to move forward as a country until we grapple with these difficult truths and start to understand and recognize the impact it’s had on the Indigenous communities today in order to make amends and move forward.

Your history of reporting on Indigenous communities also led you to take part in the CBC Aboriginal investigation involving missing and murdered Indigenous women. Can you talk to us about this investigative experience and how we, as Canadians, can ensure the voices of those who have suffered or gone missing don’t go unheard?

The reporting that I’ve done on missing and murdered Indigenous women is also a really difficult place to go. The mainstream media – for so many years- ignored the stories of Indigenous women who were suffering sexual and domestic violence and ended u missing or murdered. There are lots of studies that show that Indigenous women were not getting the same media coverage as white women who went missing or were murdered.

That began to change because of social media, as the Indigenous community was holding the mainstream media to account in 2015-2016, by telling them that “our women matter and their stories deserve to be told.” I was part of a number of stories involving Indigenous women and the violence they faced.

This sexual violence in our communities relates back to residential schools and it’s one of the most underreported stories in our community. I hope the mainstream media continues to focus on these stories as I worry that they will move on. I worry there will be less attention paid to missing and murdered Indigenous women and residential schools. I’ve learned that the mainstream media has a short attention span and is always moving onto the next story. However, I hope that these stories will stay front and center with the people that are making the decisions in our newsrooms.

They need to understand Canadians want these stories and we only need to look at the success of a podcaster like Connie Walker and how audiences are craving the content that Connie and us are offering when it comes to residential schools. I hope the mainstream media continues to back these types of projects so we can continue to inform and educate.

Be sure to check out the KUPER ISLAND podcast hosted by Duncan McCue wherever you listen to your favourite podcasts.

Published by HOLR Magazine.

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