The Mitchell Museum of the American Indian in Evanston has announced plans to present an annual lecture honoring Dr. Carlos Montezuma, an early 20th-century Native American physician and civil rights crusader who lived and worked in Chicago.
Beginning this fall, the independent, nonprofit Mitchell Museum will present the Dr. Carlos Montezuma Lecture, to be delivered each year by a distinguished Native American speaker. The speaker, topic, date, and location of the inaugural lecture will be announced in the coming weeks.
Montezuma (1866?-1923) led an extraordinary life. He was born into a Yavapai Indian family in the Arizona Territory; his parents named him Wassaja, meaning “beckoning” or “signaling.” He was kidnapped as a child by a Pima Indian war party and later sold, for thirty dollars, to an itinerant photographer and prospector who had the boy baptized Carlos Montezuma and took him to the Midwest.
Montezuma earned a bachelor’s in chemistry from the University of Illinois in 1884 and graduated from Northwestern University’s Chicago Medical College in 1889. He worked for the federal government as a physician at different Indian reservations around the country.
From 1896 to 1922, he maintained a successful private medical practice in Chicago, where he also taught at the College of Physicians and Surgeons.
All the while, Montezuma protested discrimination, inequality, and living conditions on Indian reservations and was an outspoken critic of the federal government’s management of the reservation system. He called the reservation “a demoralized prison.” He gave numerous speeches, including one titled “Let My People Go.” He published his own newspaper, “Wassaja,” calling for the abolition of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, while spurning offers from presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson to lead the very bureau he opposed. He was imprisoned for opposing the drafting of Indians — who were not classified as U.S. citizens and could not vote — into the armed forces. He also helped found the Society of American Indians, a pioneering multi-tribal advocacy group.
He devoted much time, energy, and money toward blocking the government’s efforts to transfer Yavapai resources to non-Indians. When he became critically ill with tuberculosis, he moved from Chicago to the Fort McDowell Yavapai reservation in Arizona, where he died on January 31, 1923.
In his final essay in “Wassaja,” published in November 1922, Montezuma wrote:
“If the world be against us, let us not be dismayed, let us not be discouraged, let us up and go ahead, and fight on for freedom and citizenship for our people. If it means death, let us die on the pathway that leads to the emancipation of our race, keeping in our hearts that our children will pass over our graves to victory.”
For information about the lecture series, call the Mitchell at (847) 475-1030. Its Website is http://www.mitchellmuseum.org.