CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A new University of Illinois residence hall named after the school’s first Native American graduate has opened.
Wassaja Hall residents were greeted by two descendants of the hall’s namesake, The New-Gazette reported . Madonna Luna and Roberta Camacho traveled from Arizona to take part in the university’s Move-In Day activities and celebrate their ancestor’s heritage.
The hall was named after Carlos Montezuma, who was originally named Wassaja. He became a doctor and Native American rights activist after earning a degree at the university in 1884.
“I’ve always heard about him,” Luna said. “So last year, I kind of got to know more about who Wassaja was and what he did and what he did for our tribe.”
The residence hall features metal sculptures modeled after Montezuma’s tribe baskets that represent the three stages of his life. Each sculpture has a plaque, with brief descriptions of him as a child, college student and adult.
“Each basket has a history,” Camacho said.
Montezuma was born in Arizona territory in 1866. According to historical accounts, Montezuma was stolen from his family by another tribe as a child. He was later sold as a slave to an Italian photographer named Carlos Gentile, who took pity on him and changed Wassaja’s name to Carlos Montezuma.
Information from: The News-Gazette, http://www.news-gazette.com