The social media post set off a firestorm in Rapid City, South Dakota’s second most populated city, where about 10 percent of residents are of Native descent. A nonprofit group that defends the rights of Native Americans has filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the hotel and Uhre, alleging racial discrimination, and Sioux tribal leaders have served the hotel with a trespassing order, saying the Grand Gateway is on Native land, in violation of an 1868 treaty.
“Some of our people were shocked and upset after seeing that” social media post, Harold Frazier, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, told The Washington Post. “Some of our people were like, ‘We always go through this,’ but to really see it in writing, it caused a lot of anger.”
“Gateway Hotel is in our treaty land,” he added. “… By treaty and by law, we still own that land.”
Uhre could not immediately be reached by The Post. No one answered the phone at the hotel when a reporter called early Wednesday. Uhre has not filed a response to the lawsuit.
The recent tensions began March 19, when police arrived at the hotel around 4:30 a.m. and found a man in his late teens with life-threatening gunshot wounds, the Rapid City Journal reported.
Uhre allegedly posted about the new policy the next day. In one post, she said she would “not allow a Native American to enter our business including Cheers,” a bar and casino managed by the hotel, because she was not able to tell “who is a bad Native or a good Native,” according to the lawsuit.
The day after that, Sunny Red Bear walked into the hotel with another Native American woman and tried to rent a room. A hotel employee allegedly provided the rates and began processing their booking. Then, she suddenly refused to proceed, citing a hotel policy barring people with local identification from renting rooms, the lawsuit alleges.
Minutes later, the worker told the women there actually was no such policy, court records state. Instead, she said, locals were not allowed to stay at the hotel because of the fallout over Uhre’s social media posts, according to the lawsuit. Red Bear and the other woman left the hotel on March 21 without being able to rent a room, court records state.
The following day, representatives of the NDN Collective, a local nonprofit organization defending the rights of Native Americans, attempted to book five hotel rooms for the organization but were told they could not rent rooms because of some “issues,” court records state.
An NDN Collective representative told a hotel worker that an online booking website showed the hotel had rooms available. The employee confirmed that was the case, the lawsuit states, but said the hotel would not rent the available rooms to the NDN Collective. When an NDN Collective representative asked to speak with a manager, a man demanded in a threatening manner that they leave the hotel before following the group out, court records state.
On March 23, Red Bear and the NDN Collective filed the lawsuit against Uhre and her son Nick Uhre, the manager, claiming the hotel refused to rent them rooms because of their race.
“Ms. Red Bear had not done anything to warrant exclusion from the Grand Gateway Hotel,” the lawsuit in South Dakota’s U.S. District Court states. “Instead, Ms. Red Bear and her companion were excluded on the basis of their race and protected status as Native Americans.”
On March 23, a day after the NDN Collective unsuccessfully tried to book five rooms, the Grand Gateway Hotel stationed guards in the lobby, court records state. At least one had an assault rifle, according to the lawsuit.
“The presence of guards and automatic weapons was intended to, and did, further intimidate and exclude Native Americans,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also cites Uhre’s social media posts as evidence of “explicit racial discrimination.” In one post that has since been deleted, according to the lawsuit, Uhre wrote that because of the shooting on March 19 “plus all the vandalism we have had … we will no long[er] allow any Native American on property. Or in Cheers Sports Bar.”
According to the lawsuit, Nick Uhre has also voiced his approval for banning Native Americans from the hotel property. He allegedly enforced his mother’s policy by emailing the hotel’s staff members about it.
Court records do not list an attorney for the Uhres. Nick Uhre declined to comment when reached by The Post, citing the pending litigation, but he told South Dakota Public Radio in an email that “Natives are welcome at the Grand Gateway Hotel, always have been, always will.”
Attorneys for Red Bear and the NDN Collective did not respond to messages from The Post.
In addition to blaming the mayor, police chief, sheriff, candidate for sheriff and the court system, a local hotel bans all Native Americans for a shooting a few days ago on hotel property. Neither the shooting or Grand Gateway’s response to it reflect our community values. pic.twitter.com/vA9oXND0qi
— Steve Allender (@Mayor_Allender) March 21, 2022
Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender later condemned Connie Uhre’s social media posts.
He tweeted: “In addition to blaming the mayor, police chief, sheriff, candidate for sheriff and the court system, a local hotel bans all Native Americans for a shooting a few days ago on hotel property. Neither the shooting or Grand Gateway’s response to it reflect our community values.”
Frazier, the chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, also denounced the statements as racist and discriminatory.
“This type of behavior will no longer be tolerated in this day and age,” Frazier, who demanded an immediate apology, said in a statement.
Days after the Uhres allegedly banned Native Americans from the property, the entire bar staff and some hotel employees quit, South Dakota Public Broadcasting reported. The exodus of employees was followed by a protest denouncing the owner’s alleged comments.
Tribal leaders also recently taped a cease-and-desist order to the hotel’s door, claiming the Grand Gateway is on territory of the Great Sioux Nation. The trespassing order says the hotel and its owners are in violation of the 1868 Treaty with the Sioux, which states that any non-Native American must get consent from tribal leaders to occupy the designated land.
“You are instructed to vacate and remove your persons and any personal property you deem necessary from the Treaty Territory of the Great Sioux Nation immediately,” the notice of trespass states.
On March 26, Frazier, other tribal leaders and dozens of people marched to the hotel to serve the cease-and-desist order, Frazier told The Post.
According to Google, the Grand Gateway is temporarily closed. Nick Uhre told South Dakota Public Broadcasting that was a decision made because of recent threats his family has received.
Frazier told The Post the tribes are planning to boycott Rapid City, meaning no Native Americans would set foot there, even to purchase groceries. Tribal leaders are also expected to ask the Rapid City Common Council to revoke the hotel’s business license.
“Be respectful,” Frazier told The Post. “We are human beings as well and we deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. We were here first.”