Heather Souter, anthropology professor

PROFile: A tapestry of language and heritage

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Heather Souter’s journey unfolds like a tapestry, intricately woven with her dedication to preserving her Michif heritage and Indigenous languages. Born in British Columbia with deep Métis roots, she eventually settled in Camperville, an Indigenous community in Manitoba.

“As a professor at the University of Winnipeg, my commitment to Indigenous languages runs deep. I teach remotely to stay in my community with my people,” Souter says. Her devotion to languages transcends her Métis background. She’s also fluent in Japanese.

After earning a Japanese language degree from the University of British Columbia, Souter moved to Japan, working in interpretation and translation while connecting with the environment and Indigenous communities.

Her deep affection for languages and her desire to delve into her heritage eventually guided her to Camperville, where she’s lived for 20 years. “I came out here because I wanted to learn Michif or Southern Michif through a master-apprentice program,” Souter says.

She sought to immerse herself in the language, and the community welcomed her with open arms. “I had some wonderful aunties who adopted me basically as their own,” she says.

As her language journey deepened, so did her connections. “I also fell in love with someone from the community,” Souter says.

“Not only was it because I wanted to be involved in language revitalization, but I also realized that the only way to do this is to be embedded in a community where the language is spoken.”

She recognizes that language is a social practice, not a commodity. “I knew that I had to be around the Michif speakers and do things with them in the context of our culture and with our people,” she says. “If I was going to learn and honour what they were going to share with me, I had to be here.”

Souter’s deep connection to Camperville is evident as she speaks of her adopted family. “It’s my home,” she says.

Outside her academic endeavors, Souter enjoys spending time with her husband, engaging in traditional activities like ice fishing and berry picking that help her stay connected to her community and deepen her love for the land.

What was your worst grade in university?

“I failed a number of courses. It took me 20 years to finish my undergraduate degree, because, at the time, we didn’t know that I had some difficulties that are now accommodated at universities. But I didn’t let it stop me, so there’s hope for all of us!”

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

“I would want a superpower where I could touch the hearts and minds of politicians, whether they be federal, provincial or local politicians, so that they understand how important it is to give space to cultural revitalization and to fund it adequately.”

What did you want to be when you were little?

“I had always loved languages and wanted to become a simultaneous interpreter. Also, I wanted to become a paramedic or a doctor, a ballerina and a few other things.”

What do you do in your spare time?

“I love to be out on the lake in the summer and fish or just (be) outside.”

Published in Volume 78, Number 05 of The Uniter (October 5, 2023)

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