Things That Matter

A South Dakota Hotel Owner Threatened To Ban Native Americans – And Hotel Staff Quit in Protest

It’s no shock to most of us that racism continues to permeate the country, such as through microaggressions directed at people of color in places like school or the grocery store — whether commenting on our hair, music, clothing, bodies, or more. Still, sometimes racism comes in the form of obvious, blatant discrimination — such as a recent, disheartening case involving a South Dakota hotel.

Rapid City, South Dakota’s Grand Gateway Hotel owner Connie Uhre wrote a Facebook post threatening to ban the Native American community from entering the hotel. She wrote, “we will no [longer] allow any Native American[s] on [the] property. Or in Cheers Sports Bar,” which is also part of the hotel. Although Uhre has seemingly now deleted the post off her Facebook page, Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender shared screenshots on his Twitter page.

As shown in the screenshots, Uhre’s racist rant came after a shooting occurred at the hotel on Saturday, March 19 that Rapid City police spokesman Brendyn Medina said involved two Native Americans. The Rapid City Police Department wrote on Twitter that the victim “was transported to the hospital with serious, life-threatening injuries,” and that 19-year-old Quincy Bear Robe was under arrest for aggravated assault of commission of a felony with a firearm. 

Uhre wrote her racist Facebook comment after the shooting, with her son and hotel manager saying she was reacting with “frustration and sorrow.” Of course, the vast majority of people are calling out the hypocrisy of it all — there is no justification for racism, ever, particularly blaming an entire community for one situation between two individuals.

The hotel owner’s post became even more incendiary, writing, “natives killing natives.” She also wrote an email to hotel staff saying she “really does not want to allow Natives on the property” and “the problem is we do not know the nice ones from the bad Natives… so we just have to say no to them!!” 

While the situation is infuriating, there’s a bright side — people quickly reacted to Uhre’s comment and are taking real action. Hotel executives quickly condemned the email thread, with people responding, “these views are abhorrent and have no place in our community let alone our industry,” “take me off of this disgusting email chain,” and “your racist rant is unwelcome.” 

Meanwhile, Cheers Sports Bar’s entire staff quit in protest after the incident, along with several more hotel workers. Yankton Sioux and Oneida hotel worker Red Elk Zephier said, “I just don’t want to be associated with that… I didn’t even think about the money or anything involved, I just, I can’t have that in my life.” The bar’s DJ Paul “DJ Pauly G” Geissler also said he “will never step foot in there again.”

An open letter was sent out by the Rapid City government, Oglala Sioux Tribe, local law enforcement, and several business organizations that read: “these hateful, racially-based statements return us to the volatile comments of the 1950s and 1960s.” It also called upon the Uhre family to denounce their statements and make amends to the Native American community.

Now, a federal civil rights class action lawsuit has been filed against the Retsel Corporation, which is the parent company of the Grand Gateway Hotel. The lawsuit centers on denying services to Native Americans, coming after both Uhre’s Facebook comments and the fact that both Indigenous-led NDN Collective campaign director Sunny Red Bear and director of operations Alberta Eagle were denied rooms at the hotel. 

Red Bear explained, “our community was built on genocide, on stolen land inequities to begin with, and in order for us to really move forward, we have to acknowledge those inequities.” She continued, “that history is very heavy, but we have to do that in order to heal and move forward.”

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