DOJ sues South Dakota hotel accused of banning Native Americans

  • The Grand Gateway Hotel in Rapid City, South Dakota has been accused of banning natives.
  • After the owner said in March that she was banning natives, the tribes issued the hotel a trespassing notice.
  • On Wednesday, the Justice Department sued the hotel, alleging discriminatory practices.

The Justice Department on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against a South Dakota hotel and its owners after accusations of discrimination against Indigenous people.

Prosecutors said the natives were barred from the Grand Gateway Hotel, located in Rapid City, and the accompanying sports bar beginning in March. The Retsel Corporation, which owns the hotel, and two of the company’s directors, Connie Uhre and her son, Nick Uhre, are also named in the lawsuit.

“Policies barring Native Americans from public facilities are both racially discriminatory and illegal,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement.

The hotel is located in the Black Hills, which are sacred to the natives who have inhabited the area for thousands of years. But in March, as Insider previously reported, hotel owner Connie Uhre wrote on Facebook that she was banning Indigenous people after an Indigenous person was arrested in connection with a shooting at the hotel that had taken place a few days earlier.

“We will no longer allow any Native Americans on the property,” Connie Uhre wrote in a comment that was shared and condemned by Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender. The comment also stated that breeders and travelers would get a special rate of $59 a night.

According to the Justice Department complaint, Connie Uhre made a similar statement in a chainmail around the same time. “I really don’t want to allow natives on the property,” she wrote, according to the complaint, adding that every time the hotel calls the police with “issues” it involves natives “98% of the time”.

“The problem is that we don’t distinguish between the good guys and the bad natives…so we just have to say no to them! she continued, according to the complaint.

A lawyer for Connie Uhre and Nick Uhre did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. Nick Uhre previously acknowledged his mother’s statements to South Dakota Public Broadcasting, but said he did not support them, adding: “Natives are welcome at the Grand Gateway Hotel, always have been, the will always be.”

The complaint also stated that within days of the email the hotel refused to rent rooms to Sunny Red Bar, to a Native American, and to another Native American. He also said five Native Americans from the nonprofit NDN Collective were also denied rooms.

NDN Collective had filed its own complaint against the hotel for discrimination after it sent representatives to try to rent rooms following Connie Uhre’s comments.

In addition to the NDN Collective lawsuit, local tribes responded to the alleged discrimination earlier this year by issuing a trespassing notice to the Grand Gateway Hotel, citing a 154-year-old treaty.

“It was shocking, but not too surprising, because we kind of live with that here in South Dakota,” Harold Frazier, president of the Cheyenne River Sioux and signatory to the advisory, told Insider in April. “But to really see it so blatantly, it was really disturbing.”

The notice, which was signed by several tribal leaders, said the hotel was in violation of the Fort Laramie Treaty, also called the 1868 Sioux Treaty, which established that the land in the Black Hills belonged to the Sioux. When gold was found in the area a few years later, the United States broke the treaty by allowing white settlers to settle there, an action the Supreme Court ruled illegal in 1980.

The treaty stipulates that non-natives may only cross treaty lands with the consent of the natives, and that any white person who commits a wrongdoing against a native may be referred to the federal government for arrest and prosecution under the treaty. American law.

James Meggesto, a Native American law attorney and member of the Onondaga Nation, previously told Insider that under the Constitution, treaties are the law of the land, regardless of when they were made.

“A treaty is the supreme law of the land, whether it was made five years ago or hundreds of years ago,” Meggesto said, noting that US courts have repeatedly upheld Indian treaties. However, despite the validity of the treaties, he added that the government is often unable to enforce them.

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Nohemi M. Moore