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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 65 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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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.
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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 (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,134,315 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The minus one star is mainly for formatting issues in the Kindle edition. This mostly-biography was a great introduction to the struggle for cultural survival that's been going on in Alaska-- not just among the Inupiat, but in all the Alaska Native tribes. I came away from this with a much better understanding of how the land settlement worked. The book also gives a great account of Native subsistence living -- The author spent part of his childhood living a very traditional lifestyle for much of the year with his family.

If you have any interest in Alaska native cultures, or the Inuit in particular, I highly recommend this book.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you've ever wanted to know what it is like to be a native Alaskan and to live the subsistence lifestyle in Alaska, this book is for you. 'Fifty Miles from Tomorrow' is an outstanding account of this, as written by William Hensely. The book covers the author's life, but isn't a typical autobiography, because it goes into so much detail about the inner workings of the Alaskan people. It covers (particularly well) the battle by the natives to recapture some of their land upon discovery that Alaska was rich in oil. It also describes in vivid detail intimate details about the subsistence lifestyle, including how the natives track and capture animals, and how they use every part of the animal for food or other use.

This is a relatively short book but it is packed with interesting action. It is a great start to those who want to learn about native Alaskan life and I would highly recommend it. It's a great read which draws you in and doesn't let go. Excellent book!
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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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