With his memoir of Alaska, the Inupiat 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 erasedbe they "Braveheart" Scotsmen or outback Aborigines. His book is also bright and detailed, moving along at a clip most sled dogs would have trouble keeping up with.
The New York Times
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.
Hensley's memoir is a joyous celebration of his life among the Inuit people and of fighting for their rights. As a child, Hensley (chair, First Alaskans Inst.) was raised in a traditional manner in the Alaskan bush near Kotzebue, north of the Arctic Circle. In wonderful detail, he describes the chores, games, and hard work involved in surviving there. Hensley wrestled with an education system, both in Alaska and "Outside," that saw nothing of value in Iñupiat culture. As a result, he became active in the Alaska land-claims movement, a consequence of the Statehood Act of 1959, which argued that there were no public lands in Alaska, only Native lands. He also helped organize the Northwest Alaska Native Association and the First Alaskan Institute to advocate for Native rights. President Nixon signed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act into law in 1971, awarding 44 million acres and nearly $1 billion to Alaska Natives. Hensley also played a pivotal role in renewing Iñupiat language, culture, and values, which he reinforces here by using words in Iñupiaq throughout the text and providing both an Iñupiaq glossary and an introduction to Iñupiaq writing and pronunciation. Highly recommended for public libraries.
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
“[A] riveting autobiography. . . told here with a Far Northern twist and an intimacy with the land and the heart.” Timothy Egan, The New York Times Book Review
“Hensley's life has followed a remarkable and inspiring arc. . . . This book is his chance to celebrate and strengthen the spirit of his own people.” Jeff Baker, The Oregonian
“Illuminating . . . 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, fifty 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 peoplethe 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
“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 Ilitqusiatthe 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