Hotel sued for denying rooms to Native Americans
SIOUX FALLS, SD (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday sued the owners of a hotel in Rapid City, South Dakota, alleging they violated the civil rights of Native Americans by trying to bar them from the property.
The Justice Department alleges that on at least two occasions in March, Connie Uhre and her son Nicholas Uhre racially discriminated by turning away Native Americans who sought to book a room at the Grand Gateway Hotel.
Connie Uhre had also told other Rapid City hotel owners and managers that she did not want Native American guests there or in the hotel bar, the Cheers Sports Lounge and Casino. A post on her Facebook account said she could not “allow a Native American into our business, including Cheers.”
Uhre’s comments and actions, which followed a fatal shooting involving two teenagers at the hotel, sparked large protests in Rapid City and condemnation from the city’s mayor, Steve Allender.
Rapid City, known to many as the gateway to Mount Rushmore, is home to over 77,000 people. According to the US Census Bureau, at least 11% of its residents identify as American Indian or Alaska Native. The city has long experienced racial tensions.
Nicholas Uhre said he and his mother were pressured by the Justice Department to enter into a consent decree settling the case, but there were “sticking points” in the negotiation. “I guess they’re going to do what they’re going to do,” he said.
The Department of Justice has sued under a section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that allows a judge to order changes to policies and practices in hotels and other places, but does not allow the department to obtain damages for customers who have been discriminated against.
“Restricting access to a hotel based on a person’s race is prohibited by federal law,” South Dakota U.S. Attorney Alison J. Ramsdell said in a statement.
The hotel owners have also been involved in separate lawsuits from the NDN Collective seeking damages for the hotel’s policy, a counter-suit against the Aboriginal activist organization and another lawsuit brought by Connie’s son. , Judson Uhre, who said he harmed the family business when she “wrote a racist rant that was posted on a website with wide coverage, resulting in financial loss of guests for the hotel as well as damage to the reputation of the hotel.”
Nick Tilsen, the president of NDN Collective, credited the protests with sparking the federal civil rights lawsuit and said Rapid City’s issues of racism persist beyond the hotel.
“Let this be a warning to the city of Rapid City,” Tilsen said. “If they want to attack the rights of indigenous peoples, we will force institutions like the Ministry of Justice to hold people accountable.