News Local/State

Dedication Of Wassaja Hall Honors U Of I’s First Native American Graduate

Outside Wassaja Hall

The dedication ceremony for the new Wassaja Hall residence on the U of I campus took place Thursday, September 8, 2016. Courtesy University Housing

The University of Illinois dedicated a new residence hall Thursday, named after the first Native American graduate of the school.

Wassaja Hall honors the tribal name of Carlos Montezuma (ca. 1866-1923). He was a member of the Yavapai tribe who graduated from the U of I in 1884. He went on to become one of the first Native Americans to earn a medical degree.
Bernadine Burnette is President of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation in Arizona. Although he was kidnapped as a child in an intertribal raid and grew up in a non-Native family, Burnette says Wassaja became a strong advocate for Native American rights and education.
"Guided by his example, we understand that no one else is going to protect us. We have to protect our selves," Burnette said. "At various times in our history, we have called upon Wassaja's spirit and teachings to meet the challenges that seem overwhelming. And his example is what has always helped us to find the right path."
As Carlos Montezuma, Wassaja founded the Society of American Indians, the first Native American rights group to be run by Native Americans. His descendants joined leaders of the Yavapai tribe for the dedication on campus. Wassaja Hall is at First and Gregory in Champaign.