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Fifty Miles from Tomorrow: A Memoir of Alaska and the Real People Hardcover – December 23, 2008

4.8 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Although this fascinating memoir is set hundreds of miles from where most Americans have ever dared to travel, Hensley brings to life this little-known part of America through myriad tales of toil, triumph and the Inupiat Ilitqusiat—the Inupiat spirit. Growing up in what he calls the twilight of the Stone Age, Hensley grew up without what many would consider basic necessities; in his homeland on the Kotzebue Sound in rural Alaska, survival was the primary concern. But even through the illness and hardships that plagued his and other families, the life lessons learned as a child stayed with him for decades. As such, despite attending high school and college in the Lower 48, he found himself always drawn back to his homeland, like a salmon heading for the waters where he was spawned. Hensley became a crusader for the Inupiat people, starting as a fresh-out-of-college activist, then his tenure as a state representative, and later his work in the corporate sector. Through his entire adult life, Hensley's mission has been simple: to ensure the Inupiat are allowed to keep their rights and their land. There are rich details of hunting adventures and typical childhood struggles, but the deep-rooted values and strength of the Inupiat people are what make this work truly sing. (Jan.)
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From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—Hensley grew up in a remote Alaskan village in the early 1940s and eventually became a politician and lobbyist for Native affairs. He tells of living in a sod house with no electricity, running water, bed of his own, or medical or dental care, but of being lovingly cared for by his adoptive parents—and the whole village. His early education, conveyed through oral tradition and imbued with a deep reverence for nature, taught him the hunting and fishing skills needed for survival. In contrast, his education at the Bureau of Indian Affairs school endeavored to Americanize the students and to denigrate their heritage. Hensley later attended a Baptist boarding school in Tennessee where he was encouraged to assimilate into the Southern teen lifestyle of the time, further removing him from his beloved Inupiat heritage. With humor and pathos, the author describes his youthful experiences straddling two cultures. At George Washington University, he became interested in civil rights and advocated for Native causes. The frustrations of his people as they tried to maneuver the domestic, political, and corporate complexities of modern life in the then newly formed state are passionately revealed as Hensley details his membership in the National Congress of American Indians and the Alaskan House of Representatives. Students interested in civil rights and Alaskan history and culture will appreciate this work, as will readers of Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Little, Brown, 2007).—Jackie Gropman, formerly at Fairfax County Public Library System, Fairfax, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books; First Edition edition (December 23, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374154848
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374154844
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,030,045 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Willie Hensley's life story is one of extraordinary range and comprehension, both literally and figuratively.
From a childhood lived above the arctic circle, in the "twilight of the stone age" among his Inupiat extended family, through an abrupt transplantation for schooling in eastern Tennessee and then Washington DC, the
arc of his life is nearly without parallel in modern America. With powerful imagery and elegant, flowing prose, Willie conveys the essence of life as an Alaska Native in the 20th century as no one has done before. He paints vivid
pictures of the magnificent land of northwestern Alaska, the incomparable wisdom, dignity, grace and
humor of his Inupiat (Inuit) culture---and then the equally harsh challenges facing his people since Alaska
became America: forced assimilation by missionaries and teachers who were both "church and state" in one;and the challenge of sustaining life and culture in harmony with the land and sea and natural resources while also surviving in a
"modern" world driven by a cash economy. Willie's life's work -- of seeing that Alaska's Native
people retain ownership of ancestral lands while they fight to hold onto a fraying sense of cultural identity
and still prosper --is really a tale of universal human challenges. That
is what makes this such an important book, for the lessons we can all learn about adaptability and continuity
from these First People in our nation of immigrants. Willie's is the only such clear and powerful Native voice to have come from Alaska and
find such a wide and receptive audience. For all of our sakes, may there be countless more.
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Format: Hardcover
Here is a really excellent book about the recent history of Alaska and unique life. Its about the right person in the right place at the right time with the right idea having the courage to take the right actions.

Willie shares personal details of a very different and impactful life from the relatively humdrum of the rest of us. On a personal level it's a very private sharing of a full and challenging life from a sod hut on the shores of the Bering Strait to the proverbial halls of power in Washington DC. On a political level it tells some of the details of how Alaska came to have a very different, respectful, and sharing relationship between native people and culture and that of the recently-arrived western civilization. On an even broader level it gives us a glimpse of the processes and realities of bringing together widely differing needs and approaches to knowing, loving, sharing, and exploiting the land.

Willies story gives non-natives and even natives, an opportunity to understand how others may look at Alaska.

Willie shares with us a deep well of personal courage, commitment to family and culture, and dedication to see things through to the end envisioned, and in the process reminds us all that if you want to get it done, you just have to go out and do it.
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Format: Hardcover
William Hensley provides a rare, personal accounting of the awakening of Alaskan natives to their rights. Along the way, he gives the reader an understanding of the richness, as well as the hardships, of the Inuit people before passage of the Native Claims Act. His description of government school's role in denigrating these people was particularly gripping. An important book from an important man in the evolution of Alaska and its native people. Such a book was long overdue. The fact it was easy to read was a marverlous bonus. Bill Duke.
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Format: Hardcover
I'll just chime in briefly to say "me, too." A very enjoyable and informative book, if you have an interest in Alaska history and natives.

A few details not mentioned yet: Alaska natives found some unexpected allies in their quest for quiet titles to land in Alaska, including Colorado Democrat Wayne Aspinall, Vice-President Spiro Agnew, and ultimately Richard Nixon himself, who in 1971 signed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which awarded Alaska natives title to 44 million acres in Alaska (16% of the state), and almost $1 billion for relinquishing all other claims. 16% doesn't seem excessive -- here in Arizona, the tribes own about 27% of the state -- and the Alaska natives probably got higher-quality land. More of their first choices, anyway.

Hensley relates amusing anecdotes of NANA, the new Inuit corporation, entering the reindeer business -- the main market is for the antlers, which then brought $40 per pound wholesale in the Korean sex-charm market.

Overall, he's a charming guy who doesn't appear to take himself too seriously, and who's made a difference in improving the lives of Alaska natives. Highly recommended.

Happy reading--
Peter D. Tillman
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mr. Hensley (Iggiagruk) has written a wonderful memoir about the Alaska Natives' coming into the modern age. My grandparents lived a total traditional lifestyle with almost no Western influence, and my parents were the 'in-between' generation, between the stone age and the space age. He describes this same situation in that of his family. Although I knew he was a great leader of our people, I did not realize Mr. Hensley had such a huge impact on our Alaska Native society in the form of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. I am very grateful to him for his herculean efforts on behalf of all Alaska Natives to keep a small part of the land and resources that we held for millennia. I applaud him for his continuing efforts to remind Alaska Natives to keep hold of our diverse cultures, languages, and customs. He serves as an example to other Alaska Natives that we too can write our memoirs and be heard, that we too have remarkable stories to tell.
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