Episode 42: Native Americans

Welcome to Slow American English, the podcast for learners of American English. I’m your host, Karren Tolliver.

This is episode number 42: Native Americans

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Native Americans are descended from people who came to the Americas from Asia more than 12,000 years ago. These ancient people traveled into what is now Alaska over a land bridge that doesn’t exist anymore. Descendants of these people eventually settled North, Central and South America before European settlers arrived in the 15th century.

European settlement began with an expedition led by Christopher Columbus. Columbus was an Italian explorer whose trips were financed by Spain. His ships arrived in what is now the Bahamas in 1492. Therefore, the time before this expedition arrived is known as ‘pre-Columbian’.

Because Columbus was searching for a route to India and because Europeans didn’t know then that the Americas existed, Columbus thought he had arrived in India. For that reason, he called the people he met who were living there at the time ‘Indians’. It is also why an area of the Caribbean is called the West Indies today.

The Europeans eventually gave the name ‘Indians’ to all the indigenous people who lived in the Americas, including all the tribes who lived in what is now the USA. Of course, this was not accurate. When Europeans realized this land was not India, they began calling it the New World. Indigenous people and their descendants are now known as Native Americans, and this is the preferred name today.

The European explorers and settlers were very bad for the Native Americans. For one thing, a very large part of any Native American population died in a short time after meeting Europeans because of smallpox and other diseases carried from Europe. For another thing, Europeans had guns and other weapons that the Native Americans could not defend against, so they could not win battles. A third terrible thing the Europeans did was to enslave the Native Americans.

As far as the USA was concerned, the Native Americans were in the way of US progress and settlement. In fact, in the 19th century, there was a philosophy called Manifest Destiny which stated that God wanted the United States to expand and spread democracy and capitalism across the North American continent. Largely because of this belief, land was taken from the Native Americans and most were killed. In addition, treaties promising not to take more land or to harm them further were broken by the US government time after time.

A particularly shameful example of this occurred in the 1830s. At that time, almost 125,000 Native Americans lived in what is now the Southeast. They were forced to leave their homes and travel on foot for thousands of miles to a place west of the Mississippi River. Along the way, many Native Americans died. And when they arrived, life was no better. This journey is known as the Trail of Tears.

Native Americans have been discriminated against and treated badly. Native Americans could not get good jobs, and they were not allowed in restaurants and other places. Children were forced to attend boarding school if they wanted an education, which meant they had to leave home. At school they were allowed to speak only English, not their native languages. They were forced to wear so-called European-style clothes and not their native clothing. Because of this assimilation, many Native American languages and traditions were lost.

In the 1960s, during the time of the Civil Rights Movement, Native Americans began organizing and fighting for their rights. Much progress has been made, but much remains to be done. Nowadays, there are over five million Native Americans in over 500 tribes the United States. About half the tribes live on reservations, which are areas of land reserved only for the tribes. Unfortunately, life on a reservation usually has lots of crime, unemployment and poverty.

Of course, Native Americans have contributed, and still contribute, to modern society in many ways. For a very long, free list of these, including some famous Native Americans, please visit my Patreon page at www.patreon.com/slowamericanenglish and download the bonus material for this episode.

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That’s the podcast for this time. Slow American English is written and produced by Karren Tolliver. Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.

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This has been Slow American English. I’m Karren Tolliver. Thank you for listening.