OVERRIDE

Fifty Miles from Tomorrow

A Memoir of Alaska and the Real People

William L. Iggiagruk Hensley

Sarah Crichton Books

Nunavut tigummiun!Hold on to the land! It was just fifty years ago that the territory of Alaska officially became the state of Alaska. But no matter who has staked their claim to the land, it has always had a way of enveloping souls in its vast, icy embrace. For William L. Iggiagruk Hensley, Alaska has been his home, his identity, and his cause. Born on the shores of Kotzebue Sound, twenty-nine miles north of the Arctic Circle, he was raised to live the traditional, seminomadic life that his Iñupiaq ancestors had lived for thousands of years. It was a life of cold and of constant effort, but Hensley’s people also reaped the bounty that nature provided. In Fifty Miles from Tomorrow, Hensley offers us the rare chance to immerse ourselves in a firsthand account of growing up Native Alaskan. There have been books written about Alaska, but they’ve been written by Outsiders, settlers. Hensley’s memoir of life on the tundra offers an entirely new perspective, and his stories are captivating, as is his account of his devotion to the Alaska Native land claims movement. As a young man, Hensley was sent by missionaries to the Lower Forty-eight so he could pursue an education. While studying there, he discovered that the land Native Alaskans had occupied and, to all intents and purposes, owned for millennia was being snatched away from them. Hensley decided to fight back.  In 1971, after years of Hensley’s tireless lobbying, the United States government set aside 44 million acres and nearly $1 billion for use by Alaska’s native peoples. Unlike their relatives to the south, the Alaskan peoples would be able to take charge of their economic and political destiny. The landmark decision did not come overnight and was certainly not the making of any one person. 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 also a fascinating testament to the resilience of the Alaskan ilitqusiat, the Alaskan spirit.

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Prologue

On Saturday, December 18, 1971, everything changed It was warmer than usual in Anchorage at that time of year; it was a bit above freezing. But as always during the long winter months in the Far North, the hours of daylight were excruciatingly short. The sun did not rise until just after nine o’clock in the morning, and it set well before three in the afternoon, hours before the start of the big event. As the sky darkened, people began streaming toward the center of Alaska Methodist University, now known as Alaska Pacific University. There were Iñupiat and Yupiat, Aleut

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REVIEWS

Praise for Fifty Miles from Tomorrow

“With his memoir of Alaska, the Iñupiat elder William L. Iggiagruk Hensley offers a coming-of-age story for a state and a people, both still young and in the making. And while there are familiar notes in the Dickensian telling of this tale, Hensley manages to make fresh an old narrative of people who arise just as their culture is being erased . . . His book is also bright and detailed, moving along at a clip most sled dogs would have trouble keeping up with. . . . On a personal level, the book is riveting autobiography. Anyone who thinks times are hard now need only consider a winter spent on an ice floor under a sod roof, and the prospect of a life-or-death journey to the outhouse. . . . But the rush to modern life took a big psychic toll. Alcohol, suicide, domestic violence—the familiar litany of native social ills—prompted a long journey of the soul for Hensley. As with every other episode of his life, it is told here with a Far Northern twist and an intimacy with the land and the heart.” —Timothy Egan, The New York Times Book Review
 
“Illuminating . . . ‘Fifty Miles from Tomorrow’ is an entertaining and affecting portrait of a man and his extraordinary milieu.” —The Washington Post
 
“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.” Dwight Garner, The New York Times
 
On one level, this strongly written and evocative book is the story of a man, his people—the Iñupiat, or ‘the real people’—and their world and culture. On another, it’s the story of the politics of land use and energy development.” —The Washington Times
 
“Lean but vivid prose. . . . Ultimately this book must be seen as part of that movement—as a chance for an Alaskan Inuit to leave a record of his own experience rather than to be defined by books written by outsiders. This book is his chance to celebrate and strengthen the spirit of his own people.” —The Oregonian
 
“A compelling tale of doing what had to be done and recognizing the spiritual depth and profound love it takes to become a real person in Alaska, or anywhere else.” —Bookforum
 
“An enlightening, affirmative look at Inuit culture and history by a devoted champion.” —Kirkus Reviews
 
“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. . . . 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.” —Publishers Weekly, Pick of the week

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • William L. Iggiagruk Hensley

  • William L. Iggiagruk Hensley was a founder of the Northwest Alaska Native Association and spent twenty years working for its successor, the Iñuit-owned NANA Regional Corporation. He also helped establish the Alaska Federation of Natives in 1966 and has served as its director, executive director, president, and cochair. He spent ten years in the Alaska state legislature as a representative and senator, and recently retired from his position in Washington, D.C., as manager of federal government relations for Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. Hensley and his wife, Abigale, live in Anchorage, where—now an Iñupiat elder—he is the chair of the First Alaskans Institute.
  • William L. Iggiagruk Hensley
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Available Formats and Book Details

Fifty Miles from Tomorrow

A Memoir of Alaska and the Real People

William L. Iggiagruk Hensley

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