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The First Americans

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There's something inherently wrong with this statement: Christopher Columbus discovered America. Although it disregards other explorers who ventured as far as the shores of the Americas centuries before the famed Italian, this isn't the reason for its wrongness. Instead, the very word "discovery" suggests a Eurocentric view, as though two continents and their peoples were lost prior to the arrival of the Europeans. Columbus and other explorers didn't discover anything. They reached the New World--quite a significant feat nonetheless.

Yet in light of what happened to the indigenous peoples following Columbus's arrival, it seems silly to quibble over "reach" versus "discover." Within a few centuries after 1492, disease and war had devastated as much as 90% of the Native American population. Whole languages and cultures were forever lost, as was any future history except for that influenced by land-hungry Europeans pursuing their own dreams. And those dreams didn't consider the Native American life whatsoever.

The people who came to America 10,000 to 50,000 years ago--the first Americans--did so across a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska during the previous Ice Age. Over subsequent millennia, additional waves of immigration made their way southwards into more temperate country, and eventually spread to all other points of the compass. By the time Columbus arrived, there were subsistence level hunter-gatherers up to organized nation-states, and everything in-between, in every part of North and South America.

Although unplanned in the sense that a government or religion purposely worked towards the utter extermination of the Native Americans, subsequent events practically accomplished their eradication. Early explorers conquered the organized nation-states. Later settlers came in never ending succession to escape religious persecution and wars in the Old World, or simply with the hope of an economically more prosperous life. They cleared forests, hunted game, and competed for resources with the indigenous peoples. Although Native Americans may have won skirmishes now and then, they couldn't stop all the immigrants. There were simply too many.

Diseases played an even larger part in the destruction of the Native Americans. Previously unexposed to smallpox, influenza, and the measles, their immune systems couldn't fight the diseases. Whole villages could grow sick and die, or be left with a unscrupulous of survivors unable to offer any resistance, just from contact with Europeans. Some handful explorers and settlers offered gifts of blankets from disease victims, thus ensuring more would die.

The remaining tribes of today maintain old traditions as best as possible. Disparate tribes across the US have loosely banded together to form more powerful political units. Many have also capitalized on their limited sovereignty, and run casinos independent of local laws. But in other countries, Native Americans largely have no voice to affect change, and so live in abject poverty--a grim reality of a once culturally rich, independent, and diverse people.


Step 1: Listen to the article, which is almost four minutes and thirty seconds long. Listen only, and don't worry about understanding everything.
Step 2: Read and understand the questions, then listen again. As you are listening, try to answer the questions in your head. Don't write the answers yet. Next, listen again and write the answers this time. Check your answers with a partner.
Step 3: Read the article. Check in your dictionary any unknown words. Now listen again. Can you understand more?
Step 4: Listen! Listen! Listen! Listen to the article on the train or in your free time. Each time you listen, you will slowly improve!

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