A new documentary film on the story of Dr. Carlos Montezuma, the first Native American alumnus of the University of Illinois, will debut Nov. 3 at 8:30 p.m. (CST) on the Big Ten Network. “Carlos Montezuma: Changing is Not Vanishing” was produced by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Carlos Montezuma was born in 1866 in the Arizona territory and named Wassaja or “beckon” in his native Yavapai language. As a small boy, he was stolen from his family and sold as a slave. He spent his early childhood on the road with an Italian photographer, and performed with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show before starting school in Chicago.
In 1884, Montezuma was the first Native American to graduate from the University of Illinois and later became one of the first to earn a medical degree. After working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a reservation doctor and witnessing the 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, Montezuma went to Washington, D.C., to fight for and finally secure their land and water rights, setting a precedent for other Indian nations.
University of Illinois producers Alison Davis Wood and Tim Hartin worked closely with the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation in Arizona, as well as with U. of I. Native American House director Jamie Singson and history professor Fred Hoxie, to chronicle Montezuma’s path from his own assimilation into America’s white society as a young man, to becoming a national leader for protecting Native American people and their culture.
Narration is by Hattie Kauffman, longtime CBS news reporter/anchor and a member of the Nez Perce tribe.
“Carlos Montezuma: Changing is Not Vanishing” was produced by the university’s Office of Public Affairs and the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics, with additional support from the Illinois Humanities Council.