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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Transcript:

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.

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

For a free transcript and to subscribe to the podcast, visit www.SlowAmericanEnglish.net. You can also subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, TuneIn and any other podcast feed reader.

Theme music for this podcast is written and performed by SW Campbell and used by permission. Find more music by this artist at www.Soundclick.com/swcampbell.

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

Episode 40: The Mississippi River

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

This is episode number 40: The Mississippi River

But first, are you a regular listener to the Slow American English podcast? Do you think it is helpful? Show your support and become a patron. Patrons get free Natural-Speed Recordings and Exercise Worksheets for each episode. To become a patron, visit www.Patreon.com/SlowAmericanEnglish.

Also, you can buy Slow American English workbooks on Amazon.com. Workbooks contain all the transcripts and Exercise Worksheets for each episode for an entire year; 12 episodes in each workbook.

In addition, you can become a website subscriber for free at www.SlowAmericanEnglish.net. Find free transcripts there PLUS links to become a patron and to buy workbooks.

Subscribe to the podcast feed via Apple Podcasts, Android, Google Play, Stitcher, TuneIn and any other RSS feed reader.

And, as always, you can contact me directly via email at info@slowamericanenglish.net. Now for the podcast:

Transcript:

For this episode, I recommend listening to the United States Regions episode of the podcast. Also, you can visit www.patreon.com/slowamericanenglish for a FREE downloadable map of the Mississippi River river basin. The map is helpful when considering the information in this podcast.

The Mississippi River

Geography

The Mississippi River is the second longest river in the United States, but it’s the most well known. From its headwaters at Lake Itasca in Minnesota, water flows about 2,300 miles south all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. It flows through or next to 10 states. The river is narrowest at Lake Itasca, only about 20 or 30 feet wide. It is widest, about 11 miles, at its confluence with the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois.

Smaller rivers and streams that flow into a river are called tributaries. All of the tributaries together are known as its watershed or river basin. The Mississippi River’s watershed is the third largest in the world. It covers about 1.2 million square miles, which is about 40% of the continental United States. Water from all or part of 31 states plus two provinces in Canada drains into it. The eastern boundary of the watershed is the Allegheny Mountains; the western border is the Rocky Mountains.

The Mississippi is a slow-moving river and it is very muddy. It flows about 1.5 miles per hour (mph) on the surface as it leaves Lake Itasca. Even at the Gulf of Mexico, the water flows only about 3 mph, a little slower than most people walk. It takes about three months for water leaving Lake Itasca to reach the Gulf.

The muddy Mississippi River deposits all the sand and silt that it carries over its great distance into the Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans, Louisiana. Over time, this sand and silt has built up into low-lying land. This land is called the Mississippi Delta.

History

Oral histories of Native American tribes and some archaeological evidence show that Native Americans lived near the Mississippi River as long as 12,000 years ago. Unfortunately, there is no existing written history about the lives of these people, so it is difficult to know much detail.

Then, in the 1500s, Europeans began exploring the river. The first one, Hernando De Soto from Spain, led an expedition from the Gulf of Mexico northward up the river from the delta. His plan was to plunder the tribes living there. His group encountered floods and hostile Native American attacks. De Soto was killed in an attack near the present-day city of Memphis, Tennessee, and his body was left in the river.

Next came the French expedition of Marquette and Jolliet in 1673. They came from Canada southward. A few years later a French explorer named La Salle traveled all the way from the north to the delta. He claimed the entire Mississippi River basin for France, even though Native Americans were living there long before he arrived.

In the 1700s, Spain took control of the lower Mississippi south of Cairo, IL. Eventually, France regained control of the river then sold it to the young United States as part of a land-transfer deal called the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. For many years the Mississippi River was considered the western border of the United States.

Because the river is so shallow, boats with flat bottoms were used to carry goods in the early days. These boats had no engines and were propelled by people using small paddles, sails or long poles. In the early 1800s, steam-powered riverboats with wheel-shaped paddles were used to travel both ways. These paddle wheelers could operate in shallow water and were like floating hotels with restaurants, bars and casinos. The Mississippi riverboat gambler is a common stereotype. Today tourists can still ride on a historical paddle wheeler on the Mississippi.

Because of its shallowness, the river floods often and the channel changes. Therefore, modern flood-protection was engineered to control it, especially on the lower Mississippi. These controls include locks, dams, spillways and levees, which still exist today. Some of the dams help generate electricity, and the river’s channel is dug out regularly to allow ships to carry goods up and down the river. However, these controls have changed the environment drastically, and many groups are fighting now to remove them and let the river become its natural self again. This would greatly affect those living near the river because the unpredictable floods would return.

American Culture

The Mississippi River, especially the lower part, was a popular topic in blues, jazz, gospel, folk and country music. Even today, songwriters mention the river in their lyrics.

In addition, the river has been the subject or setting of much American literature. For example, Langston Hughes, an African-American poet, wrote a famous poem in 1921 called “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” which features the Mississippi. Tennessee Williams wrote plays and poems involving life on the river. William Faulkner is a famous author whose work reflects life near the river, too.

Probably the most famous author to write about the Mississippi River was Mark Twain. One of his books is even titled Life on the Mississippi. It contains stories about his experience as a steamboat pilot and what the river was like in the late 1800s from St. Louis, Missouri, to New Orleans.

There are many more examples of literature that is based on, mentions or features the Mississippi River. Just do an online search and you’ll see what I mean.

Language Notes

Certain Native American tribes near St. Louis, Missouri, called the river misi sipi, which literally means ‘big water’ or ‘father of water’. From this Native-American name we get ‘Mississippi’. The idea of the river as father continues in American English: the river is known as “Old Man River” in literature, songs and informal conversation.

In addition, the Mississippi River is so big and is such an important river to North America and US history that it is often called the Mighty Mississippi.

Lastly, remember that Mississippi is not only the name of a river, it is also the name of a state. Mississippi state lies to the east of Louisiana and has the Mississippi River as most of the border between them.