Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"First Nation Peoples" from Voice of America

This is Rich Kleinfeldt. And this is Sarah Long with THE MAKING OF A NATION, a VOA Special English program about the history of the United States. Today, we tell about early Native Americans.

Scientists believe that the native peoples of America came here thousands of years ago during the last ice age. These people settled the land from the cold northern areas to the extreme end of South America.

As the groups of people settled different parts of the land, they developed their own languages, their own cultures and their own religions. Each group's story is important in the history of the Americas. However, it is perhaps the tribes of the central part of the United States that are most recognized. They will be our story today.


In 1804, Merriwether Lewis and William Clark led a group of explorers to the Pacific Ocean. They were the first educated Americans to see some of the native tribes of the Great Plains.

And they were the first white people these Native American people had ever seen.

When the group of explorers neared the eastern side of the great Rocky Mountains, they met with a tribe of Indians called the Shoshoni. Merriwether Lewis was the first to see them.

Let us imagine we are with Merriwether Lewis near the Rocky Mountains almost two hundred years ago. Across a small hill, a group of sixty Shoshoni men are riding toward us.


The first thing we see is that these men are ready for war. Each is armed with a bow and arrows. Some carry long poles with a sharp knife on the end.

They are riding very fast. Some horses seem to be without riders. But a closer look shows that the men are hanging off the sides, or under the horse’s neck. They are using the horses' bodies as protection.

The horses are painted with many different designs that use blue, black, red or other colors. Later we learn that each design has a special meaning for the man who owns the horse. Each one tells a story.

For example, the man riding one horse is a leader during battle. Another has killed an enemy in battle. One of the designs protects the horse and rider.

As they come nearer, the Shoshoni group sees that we are not ready for war. They slow their horses but are still very careful. Merriwether Lewis holds up a open hand as a sign of peace. The leader of the Shoshoni does the same. They come closer.

The Shoshoni are dressed in clothes made from animal skin. Most of these skins are from deer or the American buffalo. The shirts they wear have many designs, and tell stories like the designs on the horses. One shows a man has fought in a battle. Another shows a man has been in many raids to capture horses. Still another shows the man saved the life of a friend.

Captain Lewis smiles at these men. He again makes a hand sign that means peace. The signs are now returned. Lewis and the Shoshoni chief cannot speak each other's language. They can communicate using hand signs.

One young Shoshoni man comes near. He drops to the ground from his horse. He is tall and looks strong. His hair is black in color and long. He wears one long bird feather in the back of his hair. Some of his hair is held in place by animal fur.

His arms have been painted with long lines. We learn that each line represents a battle. There are many lines. But we leave the Shoshoni without him adding another one.


The Shoshoni were only one of many tribes of native people who lived in the Great Plains area. The life, culture and society of these tribes developed because of the land that was their home.

The Great Plains today is still huge. Even in a car, traveling at one hundred kilometers an hour, it can take two long days of driving to cross the Great Plains. The plains reach from several hundred kilometers north in Canada across the middle of the continent to Mexico in the south.

In the East, the Great Plains begin near the Mississippi River and go west to the huge Rocky Mountains. It is the center of the United States. There are big rivers here, deserts and mountains. Other areas are so flat that a person can see for hundreds of kilometers. Millions of kilometers of this land were once covered by a thick ocean of grass.

The grass provided food for an animal that made possible the culture of the Indians of the Great Plains. The grass fed the bison, the American buffalo.

The buffalo was the center of native Indian culture in the Great Plains. The huge animal provided meat for the Indians. But it was much more than just food. It was an important part of the religion of most of the native people in the Great Plains.

The Lakota tribe is one of the people of the Great Plains. The Lakota are sometimes called the Sioux. They believed that everything necessary to life was within the buffalo. Another Plains tribe, the Blackfeet, called the animal "My home and my protection."


The back of the huge buffalo provided thick skin that was used to make homes for the Plains Indians. Other parts were made into clothing. Still other parts became warm blankets. Buffalo bones were made into tools. Nothing of the animal was wasted.

No one knows how many buffalo were in North America when Merriwether Lewis first met the Shoshoni. But experts say it was probably between sixty million to seventy-five million.

Another animal also helped make possible the Indian cultures of the Great Plains. Native Americans first called these animals mystery dogs, or big dogs. They had no word for this animal in their language. We know it as the horse.

No horses existed in North America before the Spanish arrived in the 1500s in what is now the southern part of the United States. Native peoples hunted, moved and traveled by foot. Traveling long distances was difficult, so was hunting buffalo.

The horse greatly changed the life of all the people of the Great Plains. It gave them a method of travel. It provided a way to carry food and equipment. It made it easier and safer to follow and hunt the buffalo. The horse made it possible to attack an enemy far away and return safely. The number of horses owned became the measure of a tribe's wealth.

Spanish settlers rode horses to the small town of Santa Fe in what is now the southwestern state of New Mexico. They arrived there in about the year 1609.

It is not known how native peoples in Santa Fe got the first horses in the country. Perhaps they traded for them. Perhaps they captured them in an attack. Many tribes soon were trading and capturing horses.

By the 1750s, all the tribes of the Great Plains had horses. They had become experts at raising, training and riding horses. They became experts at horse medicine.

Each Indian of the Great Plains could ride a horse by the age of five. As an adult, a young man would have a special horse for work. Another horse would be trained for hunting. And another would be trained for war. An Indian warrior's success depended upon how closely he and his horses worked together.


George Catlin was an artist who traveled a great deal in the early American west. He painted many beautiful pictures of American Indians. Mr. Catlin said the Plains Indian was the greatest horse rider the world has ever known. He said the moment an Indian rider laid a hand on his horse he became part of the animal.

The buffalo and horse were extremely important to the Plains Indian. Because the horse made hunting easier, more time could be spent on things like art. The Plains Indians began to make designs on their clothing, and on special blankets their horses wore. Even common objects were painted with designs.

The coming of white settlers to the Great Plains was the beginning of the end of the buffalo and horse culture of the American Indians. Settlers did not want buffalo destroying their crops. The buffalo were killed. By the year 1885, the Indians of the Great Plains were mostly restricted to area of land called reservations.

Lakota Medicine Wheel

Many of the Great Plains tribes that survive today work hard to keep their traditional cultures. They produce art, music, and clothing. They keep alive the memory of these people who added greatly to the history of America.


This MAKING OF A NATION program was written by Paul Thompson. This is Sarah Long. And this is Rich Kleinfeldt. Join us again next week for another VOA Special English program about the history of the United States.


1. Merriwether Lewis communicated to the Shoshoni Indians ____________________ .
a: with sign language
b: by speaking the Shoshoni language
c: by speaking English
d: by speaking through a French fur trader who knew Indian languages

2. Because the horse made hunting easier, Native peoples could spend more time ______________________
a: creating art
b: playing with their children
c: going on vacations
d: going to war with other tribes

3. The Blackfeet called _________________ "My home and my protection".
a: the tee pee
b: the Great Plains
c: the Buffalo
d: Washington D.C.

4. The buffalo didn't supply the Lakota Sioux with ______________________ .
a: meat
b: thick skins for homes
c: religion
d: grass

5. Native peoples of America came to this continent ___________________ .
a: about two thousand years ago
b: during the last ice age
c: during the Spanish conquest
d: two hundred years ago

6. Horses first existed in North America _____________________________ .
a: at the end of the last ice age
b: after Merriwether Lewis visited the Shoshoni tribe
c: after the Spanish arrived in the 1500s
d: before the first buffalo moved onto the Great Plains

7. White settlers in the Great Plains destroyed much of Indian culture by _______________________
a: killing the buffalo
b: teaching English to Indian children
c: stealing the Indians' horses
d: building railroads

8. The colorful designs on the Shoshoni horses ______________________ .
a: were for the purpose of frightening enemies
b: were a method of artistic expression
c: were unfinished illustrations
d: illustrated a stories about the riders

9. Horses didn't provide Native Americans with _______________________ .
a: a way to carry food and equipment
b: a way to attack an enemy far away and return safely
c: a measure of a tribe's wealth
d: a source of warm blankets

10. Before the horse, people of the Great Plains traveled by ____________________
a: car
b: foot
c: wagons drawn by buffalo
d: train

This is a nice visual and musical celebration of First Nation People from Youtube:

For more reading and listening on this subject, see:
Crazy Horse, Leader of the Lakota Sioux
George Catlin: Painter of First Nation People, Early 1800s
George Catlin: Part Two and a Quiz

Sunday, July 18, 2010

"Jackie Robinson: the First African-American
Professional Baseball Player" from VOA.

Welcome to PEOPLE IN AMERICA, a program in Special English on the Voice of America. Today Shirley Griffith and Rich Kleinfeldt tell about a man who changed professional baseball in the United States. Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was the first black man to play in modern major league baseball.


After World War Two, many Americans still believed that people of different races should not mix.

In some parts of the country, blacks and whites lived in separate areas and went to separate schools. Blacks who tried to change the system risked being beaten or killed.

Blacks were not permitted to play on professional baseball teams or in any other major league sport. No black man had played for a major league baseball team since eighteen eighty-four. In that year, American baseball organizations agreed to bar blacks. That began changing when Jackie Robinson played his first game for New York's Brooklyn Dodgers on April fifteenth, nineteen forty-seven.


Jackie Robinson grew up in a family of five children in Pasadena, California, near Los Angeles. His father had left. His mother did not earn much money, so Jackie Robinson learned to make his own way in life. It was in California that Jackie Robinson first learned the ugliness of racial hatred. White families who did not want to live near them repeatedly tried to force them to move away.

Jackie Robinson established himself early as an athlete. He was a star player while attending the University of California at Los Angeles.

Jackie won honors in baseball, basketball, football and track. He was named to the All-American football team. He was considered the best athlete on America's west coast.

Jackie Robinson left college early because of financial problems. He joined the United States Army in nineteen forty-one, during the Second World War. He became a lieutenant after boxing champion Joe Louis pushed for Robinson to be trained as an officer. However, after three years, Robinson was dismissed from the army because he objected to a racial order. He refused to move to the back of a bus.

In nineteen forty-five, there were not many jobs open to a black man, even someone who had attended college. Robinson wanted to play professional baseball. Blacks, however, were not permitted to play in the major leagues. So, he decided to play with the Negro Baseball League. The Negro League teams were started in the nineteen twenties to give black people a place to play baseball.

Many of the best baseball players in the United States played in the Negro Leagues before white professional teams began accepting black players. The skills and records of black ball players were as good as major league white players. It was a hard life for Negro League players. They took long trips by bus. They changed clothes in farmhouses and shared bath water with teammates.

Many eating places did not serve food to blacks. They had to eat outside or on the road. And they were not permitted to sleep at hotels for whites. Many players slept on the bus.

Jackie Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs. It was one of the most famous baseball teams in the Negro League. But, he was unhappy in the Negro League because of the difficult life there. In a statement from the book "The History of Baseball, Nineteen-Oh-Seven," actor Ossie Davis expresses hope for change in the sport.

OSSIE DAVIS: "Baseball should be taken seriously by the colored player -- and in this effort of his great ability will open the avenue in the near future wherein he may walk hand in hand with the opposite race in the greatest of all American games -- baseball."


In nineteen forty-five, Jackie Robinson signed an agreement with Branch Rickey to play for the Dodgers. Rickey was president of the team. He wanted to find a black player who could deal with the insults and racial pressure he would face in the league.

He wanted a black player who would show restraint at all times. Rickey thought Jackie Robinson was good enough as a player and strong enough as a person to succeed. He made Robinson promise that he would never show his anger on the baseball field. Jackie Robinson accepted that condition. He said:

JACKIE ROBINSON: "I knew that I was going to be somewhat out front and perhaps, I would have to take a lot of abuse. I knew that this was bigger than any one individual and I would have to do whatever I possibly could to control myself."

Some observers said that Jackie Robinson was not the best player in the Negro Leagues. Others said that he was chosen for his communications skills and educational level and because he was an established sports star.

David Faulkner wrote a book about Robinson's life. It is called "Great Time Coming: The Life of Jackie Robinson from Baseball to Birmingham." In it, he talks about the end of racial divisions in baseball.

DAVID FAULKNER: "For many years, there had been an active campaign against segregated baseball led by Negro newspaper editors and, strangely enough, by the Communist party, which from the middle nineteen thirties on, had actively campaigned against segregated baseball. There were a number of pending bills in different legislatures challenging fair employment practices. By nineteen forty-five, there was a lot of heat in a lot of different areas -- professional baseball was certainly feeling that. Robinson in a sense was the right person at the right time."

Shortly after Jackie Robinson signed the agreement with the Dodgers, he married Rachel Isum. They had three children. It was important to Branch Rickey that Jackie Robinson be married. He thought that the public would accept Robinson more quickly if he was married. He thought that it would lessen the fears of white men that white women would find Robinson desirable.


In nineteen forty-six, Jackie Robinson began playing for the Dodgers' minor league Canadian team, the Montreal Royals. During that time, Branch Rickey tested Robinson's ability to deal with racial pressure he would face in the major league.

In nineteen forty-seven, Jackie Robinson became the first black to play modern major league baseball. He played for the Dodger's major league team, New York's Brooklyn Dodgers. In doing so, the pressure increased. He received death threats on and off the field. During games, pitchers threw the ball at his head. Several teams threatened not to play against the Dodgers. And, some of his own team members tried to have him banned from the team.

It was not easy for Robinson on road trips, either. He was never permitted to stay at the same hotels or eat in the same places as his white team members.

Jackie Robinson had difficulty on and off the baseball field, but he did not let that interfere with his game. He was a great player and leader, winning the National League's Most Valuable Player award in nineteen forty-nine. He also led the Brooklyn Dodgers to six league championships and to baseball's World Series Championship in nineteen fifty-five.

Jackie Robinson helped show that blacks and whites could live, work and play together. He became a national hero to both black and white Americans because of his skill, bravery and restraint. Robinson's success opened the door for other black athletes to play on all-white professional teams. Soon, other blacks began to appear on major-league teams. By the end of the nineteen fifties, every major league team had black and Hispanic players.

Jackie Robinson retired from baseball in nineteen fifty-six at the age of thirty-seven. He became a businessman, a political activist and a strong supporter of civil rights. In nineteen sixty-two, Jackie Robinson was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame, an honor given only to baseball's best players. He died in nineteen seventy-two. He was fifty-three years old.


This Special English program was written by Cynthia Kirk. It was produced and directed by Lawan Davis. The announcers were Shirley Griffith and Rich Kleinfeldt.

I'm Mary Tillotson. Join us again next week for another PEOPLE IN AMERICA program on the Voice of America.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

"Sharks!!! Look Out!!!"

This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Bob Doughty. And I'm Faith Lapidus.

This week, we will tell about sharks -- a fish with a public relations problem.

A picture in the newspaper shows a person standing next to a huge shark. The body of the shark is hanging with its head down. A scale is measuring its weight.

The lines below the picture say the shark was a very big one. Or perhaps it was one of the biggest ever caught in the area. The person who brought in the fish looks extremely pleased. That person won a battle with what has been called one of nature's fiercest creatures.

Some people, however, do not approve of catching sharks. They do not think all sharks are terrifying enemies. They know that studies show lightning and snakebites threaten people more than shark attacks.

Activists for sharks note that the fish are valuable in the ocean. Sharks eat injured and diseased fish. Their hunting means that other fish do not become too great in number. This protects other creatures and plants in the ocean.

Environmental activists worry that some kinds of fish are in danger of dying out. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated that fishing operations kill more than one hundred million sharks every year. Sharks are harvested for meat and cartilage, liver oil and, especially, for their fins. Many of the animals die when people harvesting other kinds of fish pull in sharks by accident.

George Burgess leads the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History of the University of Florida. He says shark attacks increased during the past century for a good reason. Hundreds of millions of people now use the world's oceans, more than in the past.

Professor Burgess says the first ten years of the twenty-first century are expected to register the most attacks of any ten-year period.

Yet the International Shark Attack File reports that the number of shark attacks has, in fact, decreased in recent years. During this period, there was an average of sixty-three attacks worldwide each year. That compares with a high of seventy-nine in two thousand.

The file gives some likely reasons for the decrease. One reason is that overfishing of sharks and related fish has reduced the size of some shark populations.

Another is that more people are careful to stay away from waters where sharks swim. And the file says workers responsible for boating and beach safety may be doing a better job of warning people when sharks are seen.

The International Shark Attack File describes shark attacks as either provoked or unprovoked. An unprovoked attack means the person is alive when bitten. It also means the person must not have interfered with the shark.

Some divers interfere with sharks on purpose. They want to get the attention of sharks, perhaps to take pictures of them. The diver may put food in the water to get the animal to come close. Sharks do not normally want to be with people. But their excellent sense of smell leads them to food.

Some experienced divers say they may not face danger when near a shark. But they say the next person who comes near the shark may be in trouble. The animal's experience with being fed may make it connect food with people.


Some divers, filmmakers and nature photographers enter a shark's territory while inside containers made of steel. Others wear heavy metal equipment for protection. And others get near sharks wearing only normal diving equipment.

Close contact with sharks has its critics. Some people say it represents invasion of the animals' territory for no good reason. But exciting films may increase public interest and sympathy for the animals.

Many people wanting to save sharks have formed activist groups. For example, a group called Shark Safe helped prevent the killing of sharks at a fishing competition in Florida earlier this month. Event organizers had said the goal would be to catch and release sharks.

But the Shark Safe Project said the stated goal of "bringing in the big one" would lead to killing of the biggest sharks. The big ones are the most likely to reproduce.

The Shark Safe Project planned a demonstration against the competition. The demonstration never took place, however. Instead, the event organizers changed their plans. Participants were to catch the sharks as expected. But all sharks were to be released.

The Shark-Free Marinas Initiative is a campaign aimed at helping sharks worldwide. Under the Initiative, people could not bring a killed shark to a participating marina. People transporting captured sharks to the boat landing for weighing and killing would also be rejected.

The initiative cooperates with several other programs, including the Cape Eleuthera Institute in the Bahamas islands. The Institute is an educational center that also operates a shark research program.


In late two thousand seven, a United Nations conference reported that one kind of shark, the basking shark, is in danger of dying out. The numbers of basking sharks have been decreasing for the past half-century. The animals are the second largest shark, after whale sharks. They swim with their mouths open, cleaning the water as they move. They take up and eat objects like fish eggs and tiny sea organisms.

Scientists want to know how and where basking sharks travel.

Recently, experts on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean were interested in a huge basking shark discovered in eastern Canada. The remains of the eight-meter long animal were found on a rocky beach in Saint John, New Brunswick. Experts said the cause of death is unknown.

Donald McAlpine heads the zoology collection at the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John. He said scientists removed the head and some backbones from the shark for examination. Mr. McAlpine said pictures of the animal were sent to scientists in Britain. The British scientists had requested the pictures to learn if the shark was the same fish they had observed on their side of the Atlantic.

Sharks can be identified by their individual markings and sometimes by healed wounds.

For years, the travels of basking sharks have been a mystery to scientists. Basking sharks from the northeastern United States are not seen in the winter. They seem to disappear from cool waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Yet studies published in the journal Current Biology are providing clues about the mystery.

The studies found that the sharks went to warmer waters of the Atlantic during the winter. The animals did a good job of staying hidden from sight. They swam in waters from two hundred to one thousand meters deep.

Like Americans living in cold climates, some of the sharks traveled to Florida for the winter. Others went even further south. One spent a month in waters near Brazil.

One of the investigators was Gregory Skomal of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. He says the fish probably get to eat more plankton in the warmer waters.


Today, a major threat to sharks comes from shark fin soup. The popularity of the soup has increased greatly over the years. Fisheries can earn a lot of money for even one kilogram of shark fins.

Finning, as it is called, is big business. It means cutting the fins off a live shark. Fishermen cut off the shark's fins and throw the animal back into the water. The shark then bleeds to death on the bottom of the ocean.

Many animal-protection groups and people worldwide have denounced finning as cruel. Some areas have banned this activity. But it is hard to enforce the ban in many places.

Ann Luskey is an activist for the world's sea environment. She lives on a boat and often dives to watch underwater life. Her three children took part in an unusual recording project. The family hopes the music will attract attention to the need for taking good care of the earth and its seas.

One of the recordings is a hip-hop song called "Shark Fin Soup." It urges people not to eat the soup because it threatens sharks.


This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Jerilyn Watson. Brianna Blake was our producer. I'm Faith Lapidus. And I'm Bob Doughty. Listen again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.