MILLBROOK - Little did Zach Julian know what he was missing all those times he went to the store to buy a lacrosse stick.
The 17-year-old Millbrook resident is getting well informed as he learns how to make his own in the traditional First Nations way.
"It's pretty sweet to make a stick," Julian, a provincial team member, said. "It's way better than going to any store and just having that five-second transfer of money and taking home a stick. You appreciate it more because you're making it yourself."
In doing so, Julian is joining an exclusive club. There are only five known stick makers in the world and he and Indian Brook's Brian Knockwood are looking to become No. 6 and 7 under the tutelage of Russell George, a former National Lacrosse League player and Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Famer from Syracuse, NY.
"So once I learn the full process to make a stick I'll be part of that group so it's a pretty big deal," Julian, who helped start a lacrosse program in Millbrook last year, said. "I'm thankful for the opportunity."
Julian and Knockwood spent the weekend and Monday with George and former teammate Travis Cook - also enshrined in the Hall of Fame - at Millbrook Youth Centre learning how to make sticks the same way their ancestors did hundreds of years ago.
The process has been an enlightening one for the Millbrook teen and offers a unique sense of connection with his forefathers.
"You're doing it as they did it so it's almost like you're walking in their footsteps and it just brings me back more to my culture," Julian said. "I just love learning about it."
The workshop was set up by Lacrosse Nova Scotia. George wanted to come to the community to pass on his knowledge and keep that aspect of native culture alive. In turn, he hopes Julian and Knockwood will pass the craft on to others in the community.
"I like to do this," George said while preparing laces for the stick pockets. "It's not just about making a stick, but for them to be able to teach others. That's my reward for this."
Julian said he can't wait to start passing on the craft to his community and compared the process to his native Mi'kmaw language.
"There is only a handful of people who are actually able to speak it, so they hold the key to bringing it back," he said. "That's like what I'm going to hopefully be doing and what Russ is doing now. He has the knowledge and him coming here is just another step in bringing back the game to our people."
Although George and Cook were only in the community for three days, they taught Julian and Knockwood much of what the process involves and walked them through the steps of making a stick using partly prepared materials. The students will practice those methods over the next few months before George returns in March to teach how to start from scratch, including carving the stick shaft from a log.
George said it's an important part of keeping native culture alive, but added he feels he's simply "rekindling" the tradition in Millbrook, a community documented as having played the game in the past.
"I'm lucky enough to be here to help," he said.
"I hope they'll be proud of it. You can win a million dollars and in two generations it's going to be gone. But the stick he makes, his first one, will be in his family forever. It's part of him."