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Fifty Miles From Tomorrow

by William L. Iggiagruk Hensley
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publishing date: 02/03/2010
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780312429362
  • ISBN: 0312429363



Born twenty-nine miles north of the arctic circle, William L. Iggiagruk Hensley was raised to live the seminomadic life that his I?upiaq ancestors had lived for thousands of years.  In this stirring memoir, he offers us a rare firsthand account of growing up Native Alaskan, and later, in the lower forty-eight, as a fearless advocate for Native land rights.  In 1971, after years of tirelessly lobbying the United States government, he played a key role in a landmark victory that enabled the Inupiaq to take charge of their economic and political destiny.  Fifty Miles from Tomorrow is "a joyous celebration of Hensley's life among the I?upiaq people and of fighting for their rights" (Library Journal).

William L. Iggiagruk Hensley is nationally revered for his tireless crusade for Native peoples’ rights. Hensley worked for twenty years with the Inuit-owned NANA Regional Corporation, and is chair of the First Alaskans Institute.
As a young man growing up on the shores of Kotzebue Sound, twenty-nine miles north of the Arctic Circle, William L. Iggiagruk Hensley learned to live the way his ancestors had for thousands of years. He absorbed the old stories and sayings, the threads of wisdom passed down through the generations. Though Hensley eventually left Alaska behind to pursue his education in the continental United States, he carried with him the hardiness, the good humor, and the tenacity that had helped his people flourish on the wild tundra.

In 1971, after years of Hensley’s tireless lobbying, the United States conveyed forty-four million acres and earmarked nearly $1 billion for use by Alaska’s native peoples. The law insured that all the American Indians of Alaska would be compensated for the incursion of the U.S. government upon their way of life. Unlike their relatives to the south, the Alaskan peoples would be able to take charge of their economic and political destiny in the twentieth century and beyond.

The landmark decision did not come overnight. Neither was it the work of any one man. But it was Hensley who gave voice to the cause and made it real. Fifty Miles from Tomorrow is not only the memoir of one man; it is a testament to the resilience of the Alaskan Ilitqusiat?Native Spirit.
"With this book, Hensley, an Inuit who has spent much of his life advocating on behalf of the I?upiaq, offers both a rich and engrossing narrative of his own life and a valuable resource in the effort to understand and protect the culture and history of Alaska Natives . . . Remembering his childhood, Hensley writes simply but in vivid detail of the hardships of daily life as well as of his deep love of family and traditional culture . . . From an early age, Hensley recognized the conscious efforts of educators and missionaries to 'isolate children from their cultures.' He carried this sense of injustice with him when he left Alaska to pursue his education in the Lower 48 and ultimately became an indefatigable champion of native rights . . . Hensley continues his efforts to preserve and protect his native culture with this deeply respectful and clear-eyed book . . . truly a window into the real Alaska."?Debra Ginsberg, Shelf Awareness

"In William L. Iggiagruk Hensley’s often harrowing new memoir, Fifty Miles From Tomorrow, set in the far northern Kotzebue Sound region of Alaska, he recounts an evening in the late-1940s?the author was 6 at the time?when he and his adopted family sat down to a meal of utniq that had, unbeknownst to them, gone very bad. Before long, his adoptive father and pregnant stepsister had died. One stepbrother, in a hallucinatory daze, survived by paddling a small boat 10 miles to the nearest town. For many memoirists, this kind of catastrophic event would be enough to hang an entire book upon. Mr. Hensley?many Inupiaq received their surname from visiting missionaries; Mr. Hensley was partly named after his maternal grandfather?and his adoptive family, Alaska Natives, lived along the Bering Sea, 29 miles within the Arctic Circle. They lived in tarpaper or sod houses and survived on what they could fish, hunt or grow in the region’s abbreviated summertime. It would be decades before the family or its neighbors had electricity, telephones, indoor toilets or medical care. Every pair of hands was vital. Yet in Fifty Miles From Tomorrow these deaths take up only a few short paragraphs. Mr. Hensley has written a book that is so full of incident, yet so stoic, that life?and narrative?simply marches on . . . Mr. Hensley’s account of what it’s like to grow up in the far north, 50 miles from the International Date Line, is rarely less than gripping . . . Fifty Miles From Tomorrow can read like a sturdy primer on cold-weather survival. Mr. Hensley writes observantly about the killing and cleaning of seals, about constructing sod houses, about making toys from the talons of an owl and brooms from its wings, and about the intricacies of making coffee each morning by first chopping chunks of ice to make water . . . Gripping."?Dwight Garner, The New York Times

"Late in this illuminating memoir, the author recounts a transcendent moment. The time is 1977, the place is Barrow, Alaska, and the occasion is a whaling convention that has evolved into a momentous gathering of Inuit (the 'real people' as they call themselves) from the United States, Canada and Greenland. As William L. Iggiagruk Hensley explains, it's the first meeting of these far-flung Inuit groups since they migrated eastward from Asia 5,000 years ago. Amazingly, given the millennia of separation, they find the several versions of Inupiaq, their common language, to be mutually intelligible. Powered by linguistic euphoria, they talk and dance and, above all, sing. 'We celebrated as long as our bodies didn't fail us,' Hensley writes, 'and slept only long enough to resume the orgy of Inupiaq communication that had so long eluded us' . . . Fifty Miles From Tomorrow is an entertaining and affecting portrait of a man and his extraordinary milieu."?Dennis Drabelle, The Washington Post

"This year Alaska celebrates its 50th anniversary, so it's no coincidence that Alaska native William Iggiagruk Hensley has penned a story of his life, from growing up as an orphan in Kotzebue to living though the era of the pipeline that brought wealth to the state and economic support to the native tribes that inhabit it . . . The book offers an interesting glimpse of the first half-century of Alaska statehood."?Susan Gilmore, The Seattle Times

"On one level, this strongly written and evocative book is the story of a man, his people?the Inupiat, or 'the real people'?and their world and culture. On another, it's the story of the politics of land use and energy development. William L. Iggiagruk Hensley was born in Kotzebue, Alaska, 'twenty-nine miles north of the Arctic Circle, ninety miles east of Russia, and fifty miles from the International Date Line, a place shaped by the winds and waves of the Bering Sea.' For many of us, Alaska is a country in the mind, exerting a nearly inexplicable, magnetic pull. For Mr. Hensley, however, the relationship is organic. 'Alaska is my identity, my home, and my cause. I was there . . . before Gore-Tek replaced muskrat and wolf skin in parkas . . . before the snow machine, back when the huskies howled their eagerness to pull the sled . . . before the outboard motor showed up . . . before the telephone, when we could only speak face-to-face, person-to-person about our lives and dreams; before television intruded upon the telling and retelling of family chronicles and legends.' Mr. Hensley also came to understand the world into which he was born represented 'the twilight of the stone age,' where there were few illusions about the ability of his people to succeed, or even survive, in the culture that had swallowed them, their way of life, even the land?especially the land?on which they'd lived for centuries."?John R. Coyne, The Washington Times

"A Native Alaskan who now lives in Anchorage crafts a powerful memoir of his unlikely life, rising from being an orphan to serving in Alaska's House of Representatives and Senate, as well as being a longtime activist involved in native land claims."?The Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"It is more than fitting that Native rights activist William L. Iggiagruk Hensley's memoir is being released on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Alaskan statehood. Fifty Miles From Tomorrow: A Memoir of Alaska and the Real People may well be the first book about the Alaskan Inuit way of life written from deep inside the Inuit experience.  Hensley's life has followed a remarkable and inspiring arc. From a childhood spent in 'the twilight of the Stone Age,' and the imperatives of raw survival, he traveled on to a Baptist boarding school in pre-civil rights Tennessee and earned a degree from George Washington University. At age 25, energized by a pivotal moment in land-rights issues, he won a seat in the Alaska House of Representatives and later moved on to the Senate. He founded the Northwest Alaska Native Association and has been active in founding and leadership positions in a number of other regional, state and worldwide organizations. 'The beauty of the American system is that you get to speak,' Hensley writes. 'And I had a lot to say.' The shape of Native Alaskan lives might have been drastically different during these years of statehood without the dedication of activists such as Hensley. The heart of the author's personal story, and the foundation of his passion and de...

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  • 50 Miles from Tomorrow
    From Amazon

    A remarkably lucid bio of Hensley's life from his challenging early years in the Arctic to his notable accomplishments as a recognized leader of the Alaska Native community. Quite educational!

  • Most Interesting...
    From Amazon

    I lived in Alaska for much of my life and knew of Mr. Hensley and his work for Alaska in many capacities. When I noticed the book, I though it would be interesting to see just what life in the villages was about, since I had lived in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Valdez, and had not experienced the life of the true Alaskans. I found the book to be well written and very interesting. I would recommend it to anyone interested in how life is lived by native Alaskans...theirs is obviously a very hard life but they are enormously resourceful and hard working people.

  • One Person CAN make a difference
    From Amazon

    This is a wonderful true story about a young man and his evolution of understanding about his culture and what really matters in life. Each page of the book leads you closer to understanding the man, his culture, and his purpose on earth. Great ethnographic read.

  • An Inuk Activist Navigating in Two Worlds
    From Amazon

    Fifty Miles from Tomorrow by Iggiagruk Willy Hensley was a pleasure to read. The title was a clever way to start his story. It reminded me of how Yup'ik stories begin, Ak'a tamani, A long time ago at that place expressed the importance of our land and a sense of time. His description of his early years brought back my own memories of growing up on the land at a time when we felt that the land was ours at least in the rural parts of our homeland. Willy recalled how most of our culturally strong elders emulated the best of our people and in an unsaid way those values were embedded subliminally within his inner being. It was this connection to his past that would influence him later in his life in the way that he viewed his place in the present history of our people and Alaska. Inupiaq was his heritage language and English was his second so he is bilingual. He took language lessons in the Russian Language. Many changes occurred during his life time and his world view was influenced by the strong life ways of his Inupiaq relatives. He saw the joy on being on the land with his family. He also began to see the negative distraction that occurs with the clashing of opposing cultures. He openly described how his own mother had become dysfunctional due the scourge of alcoholism and unfortunately as did many others. Willy could have fallen by the way side and maybe have become a part of the negative statistic of the deficit model of Alaska Natives. Destiny had other directions for him, namely getting a western education in Tennessee. He became a man who learned to live in two worlds knowing also that he was of mixed blood. His Inupiaq culture taught him to be non-confrontational but when needed to be assertive diplomatically to express his point of view as well as that of the people he was speaking for. He had learned his lessons well in the two worlds he lived in. He ventured into unknown territory that of running for public office. He became one of a handful of Alaska Native trail breakers by being elected to office in Juneau. Fast forwarding to his later years, while studying Constitutional Law his keen eye for detail saw how the United States government acquired the Lower 48 American Indian lands by declaration of war what others refer to as divine right of conquest. Other Nations also used the argument of the right of discovery to claim the land as theirs. Being aware of what happened in Alaska, he saw that Alaska was not discovered by the U.S. and that official war was not declared by Congress. As I recall before he wrote this book and telling me when he saw the difference said, "This sucker is ours." He wrote his paper stating this case for his Constitutional Law class and the rest is history. I wished he had used this phrase in his book but being the statesman that he is made his statement more diplomatic so that tender eyes and ears would not be offended. There have been many historians, academicians, research scholars and those with Juris Doctorates who did not see this difference. Representative, Senator, lobbyist, arbitrator, mediator, high school football star, undergraduate, graduate student, Honorary Doctorate in Law, Banker, Business Man, Writer, Poet, Lecturer, Hunter, Fisherman, Arctic Winter Games athlete, International Traveler, Inupiaq Dancer, Husband, Father, Grandfather, Native Leader and now Alaska Native Elder Iggiagruk Willy Hensley deserves to be given the credit for his research discovery that is the roots of the Alaska Native Land Claims. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in a biography that speaks from the heart with dignity and humility.

  • An Alaskan's Tale
    From Amazon

    As an Alaskan who has lived in the state for nearly fifty years, I was fascinated by this exceptional man's story of his rise from a tough subsistence existence to his successful battle for native land rights.

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