Trapper, stonemason, bingo enthusiast, mitaywino (shaman). Born on Jan. 20, 1945, in God’s Lake Narrows, Man.; died on Jan 31, 2014, in Winnipeg, of coronary artery disease, aged 69.
Andy spent much of his early life on the family trap line at Webber Lake, Man. His grandfather, Joseph Trout Sr. was a widely respected mitaywino (shaman). When Andy was five years old, his grandfather chose him to be raised in the age-old lore, customs and beliefs of the Cree People. At 15, he pursued his own vision quest, isolated on an island on a remote lake.
But the world around him was changing, and he later described his early years as being “just too hard.” Trouble lurked everywhere. Almost no member of the Trout family was untouched by alcohol-induced violence. When he was 20, Andy was taken to Winnipeg for legal and medical reasons. In the decades that followed, he would return to God’s Lake only for brief visits.
In 1967, he became a father to a son, Robert. A year later, while Andy was being treated in hospital for tuberculosis in Ninette, Man., he met Jean, who had three daughters (Barbara, Nancy and Eileen) from a previous marriage. He and Jean went on to have three girls of their own (Angelene, Jacqueline and Anita) and all six daughters grew up in Winnipeg.
Andy possessed a prodigious intelligence, enormous self-confidence and a droll sense of humour. He was a man sure of who he was; one friend described him as “the most Indian Indian I ever met.” But for him, life in Winnipeg was filled with confusion, alcohol and despair.
While on wilderness canoe trips with friends and family, Andy would reveal his consummate mastery of wilderness life. Somewhere on the Bloodvein River he was asked, “Why don’t you just pack up your wife and kids and go back to the bush and live your life?” Andy responded with heartbreaking insight: “Yes, that would save me, but sooner or later my children or grandchildren would have to go through this hell I’m living.” Nor would he pass on the teachings imparted by his grandfather. “It is not what they’ll need in the lives they will live,” he explained. “It’ll just screw ’em up.” As he watched his children grow, he never doubted the wisdom of that decision.
Despite spending most of his life in the city, Andy retained many traits of his early life. Fat on a steak was like icing on a cake for him. His Cree ear could not distinguish between “b” and “p,” or “d” and “t” sounds. If he were talking about shooting rabbits or rapids, you required context to understand if he was using a gun or paddle.
Over the years, Andy and friends travelled throughout North America. He was always intrigued by new animals along the way – armadillos, dolphins, alligators. On an alpine lake near Yellowstone, we heard a loon. While the others exclaimed about the beauty of nature, Andy was quiet for a while and then said, “The loon’s a good bird … but you gotta boil it a long time.”
In the mid-1990s, after 25 years of dysfunction, Andy woke up one morning and said of his drinking, “Enough of this stupid way of living.” And that was that. He never drank again.
If there is a heaven-like afterlife, and Andy certainly believed there is, we can see him now. It’s late autumn, after the first light fall of snow, when tracking a moose is easy. Andy apologizes to the moose: “I’m sorry my brother that you must die that I might live.” Or, in a warmer season, he sits by a fire patiently waiting for his loon to boil.
Bob Golinoski is Andy’s best friend of nearly 50 years.