CASSOPOLIS, Mich. (WOOD) — The controversial name of a Southwest Michigan intermediate school district is changing after months of debate.
The Cass County ISD board voted unanimously on Wednesday to rename itself the Heritage Southwest Intermediate School District.
Superintendent Brent Holcomb said concerns about the Cass name came up in May. The board established a committee that started working in September to get input from the community.
“I just really appreciate the committee that served to have the conversation and I think it was important and I think the board felt strongly that this is something they could support,” Holcomb said.
Namesake Lewis Cass is a controversial figure in Michigan and U.S. history. A former Michigan governor and senator, he supported allowing states to decide if they permitted slavery, owned slaves and was considered the architect of President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act.
Julie Dye, a member of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi who advocated for the change, said the word “removal” in that act sanitizes what actually happened.
“’Removal’ was suffering and death of my people and it involved marching by foot 600 miles and at the end of a sword,” Dye said.
She said some of the elders in the tribe were emotional when they heard the district was talking about changing the name.
“One of our grandmothers … actually said it brought her to tears when she heard that they were discussing changing name because she thought it would never happen,” Dye said.
Skip Dyes, who was on the naming committee, said members felt the word ‘heritage’ encompasses the diverse groups who call the area home.
“I think it’s a good time to do the change. I think not only (is) Cass County changing, I think the whole world is changing and I think we need to be a part of what’s going on around us,” Dyes said.
The state school board is expected to sign off on the name change in the next couple months. The ISD superintendent hopes to have the new name fully in place by the fall.
Last year, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer renamed a state building in Lansing bearing Cass’ name the Elliott-Larsen Building after the founders of the state’s civil rights act.
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