New Hall Named Wassaja

New Hall Named for First Native American Graduate

Please join us for a dedication ceremony of Wassaja Hall, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 8, 2016. The dedication will take place in the multipurpose rooms (second floor) of the Student Dining and Residential Programs (SDRP) building, 301 E. Gregory, Champaign. Parking is available in lot E-38 (south of Scott and Snyder Halls).

University Housing's newest residence hall has been named Wassaja, after the University's first Native American graduate and a leader in advocating for Native American rights. Wassaja Hall opened to students in fall 2016 (see construction for more information). 

Wassaja (who was later known by his adopted name, Carlos Montezuma) was born in 1866 in the Arizona territory; his name (pronounced WAHS-ah-jah) means “beckoning” in his native Yavapai language. As a small boy, he was stolen from his family and later sold to an Italian photographer, Carlo Gentile, who changed Wassaja’s name to Carlos Montezuma. In 1872 Gentile and Montezuma moved to Chicago, where young Carlos started school and during that same year, performed with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.  

In 1884, Wassaja was the first Native American to graduate from the University of Illinois, and later became one of the first to earn a medical degree. He was the first US individual of color to graduate from Illinois. After working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a reservation doctor and witnessing widespread poverty and bureaucratic corruption, he fought tirelessly for Native American rights and citizenship. When his own Yavapai tribe faced removal from their ancestral home, he went to Washington, D.C., to fight for and finally secure their land and water rights, setting a precedent for other Indian nations. 

As part of the initial naming process, the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation Tribal Council was approached about the residence hall. The Yavapai Tribal Council endorsed the naming of the hall, and also received support for using the name from Wassaja’s family descendants. 

To learn more, watch the documentary "Carlos Montezuma: Changing is Not Vanishing."