Rat Root of Research: Plant Medicine Plants a Seed of Change for Jules Carriere
“I really wanted to be home and be there and be the father that I want to be and it's led me to this path,” Jules Carriere smiles, thinking of his eight-year-old daughter, and how she helped him become
a University of Saskatchewan honours student. He studies cellular, physiological and pharmacological processes as part of a research project on Indigenous medicine and their anti-inflammatory properties. Combining traditional Indigenous medicine with modern medicines is an approach Carriere thinks can provide a better understanding, unlock potential and help other people in the future.
The plant he’s studying is called rat root, because in the past, his people would see the muskrats chewing on it and they realized it had medicinal properties. They would eat it or use it for tea and found it was helpful to reduce coughs, sore throats, and teething symptoms in infants. Rat root paste on the gums would work as an analgesic. The plant has a pungent smell and a lot of potential, from Carriere’s perspective and to gather it, you have to go into the wilderness, often by boat.
Before he got to university to study plant medicine, he joined the armed forces at the age of 17. He was in the military for four years and enjoyed his time. While working there, he learned discipline and to be very tidy. After he finished his time there, he went to Alberta to make money on the oil rigs. “Really, really good money, but also some of the hardest work that you will ever do if you're going to work in the rigs,” he recalls.
The instability of employment tied to the cost of oil meant he was out of a job when prices dropped and he decided to try electrical work next. He really enjoyed the work, but not having to be away from his daughter. The love of his daughter helped him find a new way to live.
In pursuing his trades education, he learned to apply himself in his studies and it got him thinking he could go to school and if he tried hard enough, he might be able to get into dentistry or medicine. Carriere dropped out of electrical school and applied to university where he thrived academically. “It's been a lot of commitment and a lot of discipline to really stick to the program and just know that it's going to be worth the effort,” he reflects.
His advice for youth thinking about leaving home to study or travel abroad is empowering. “Life's pretty dang short, just go out there and experience it,” he urges. He has words of wisdom for getting through hard times, too, offering, “I know that there's times when things can be really tough, but it's through those that we grow as people and if you're able to stick through it, that just makes you that much stronger.” He knows diamonds are formed under pressure and he sees how facing difficulties can create so much value in a person.
In his downtime, Carriere likes to exercise. He enjoys canoeing, walking, taking his dogs on walks, and playing games with friends. He practices Brazilian jiu-jitsu and kickboxing, finding the activities meditative while still intensely physical. Carriere loves how he feels after and the practical knowledge of how to defend himself.
He’s no stranger to working hard, given the challenges of the program he’s pursuing academically. “I would say it's very complicated. It's probably one of the toughest programs that you can try here at the university,” he relays. From the requirement to maintain an average of over 75% to the difficult courses like biochemistry, chemistry, biology, and immunology, it’s challenging. The program is intended to lead to medicine or biomedical research, and while it’s tough, he finds it rewarding.
“If you're into this kind of thing it's almost mind blowing sometimes, just thinking about everything that you learn about,” he raves. In high school, Carriere was intrigued by how cells work and that spark of interest helped him find a path of studies that excites him. From final exams to having his laptop stolen, he’s had tough times at school, but he’s grateful for all the resources available at the university.
“There's always people that can help you. Don't ever be shy to reach out for help. Go to the school, go to your advisors, speak to them and tell them your situation,” he advises students who might find themselves in similar situations. The Indigenous student group at his school helps him feel connected to community and he appreciates the programs designed with Indigenous students in mind.
When he thinks about his hopes for the future for Indigenous youth, Carriere is wistful. He hopes to see more Indigenous youth involved and proactive in academics, and also learning how to deal with the intergenerational impacts of residential schools by learning about the past. He wants youth to take action, sharing, “Don't be afraid to get out there and experience the world. If you're thinking about doing something, just do it. Have great stories to tell.”
Jules Carrier has great stories to tell from a series of careers and choices that led him to where he is now. He wanted to be home and be there and be the father that he wanted to be and it led him to a new path, studying plant medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. Learning from tradition and modern science, he’s studying ways to make people feel better in the future. Rat root is the root of his research and his new academic life and he’s growing into a scientist and a better parent through hard work and commitment.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.