The U.S. Department of Justice sued the owners and operators of the Grand Gateway Hotel, and the Cheers Sports Lounge and Casino, a sports bar that operates within the hotel, which is located in Rapid City, South Dakota. The DOJ alleges that on at least two occasions in March, Connie Uhre and her son Nicholas Uhre committed racial discrimination by turning away Native Americans who sought to book a room at the Grand Gateway Hotel. The lawsuit alleges that the entrepreneurs discriminated against Native American customers, violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin in places of public accommodation, such as hotels and other places of entertainment. The suit on racial discrimination is against the corporate owner, Retsel Corporation, and two of the company’s directors, Connie Uhre and her son, Nicholas Uhre.
“Policies prohibiting Native Americans from accessing public establishments are both racially discriminatory and unlawful,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously protect the rights of all people to go about their daily lives free from discrimination at hotels, restaurants and other public accommodations around the country.”
“Restricting access to a hotel based on a person’s race is prohibited by federal law,” said U.S. Attorney Alison J. Ramsdell for the District of South Dakota.
“We just have to say no to them”
According to DOJ’s report, since at least March 20, the Retsel Corporation, Connie Uhre, and Nicholas Uhre committed racial discrimination against Native American customers through policies and practices that denied Native Americans the full and equal enjoyment of access to the services, accommodations, and privileges at the Grand Gateway Hotel and the Cheers Sports Lounge and Casino.
Connie Uhre allegedly told other Rapid City hotel owners that she did not want Native American customers at the hotel. A post on her Facebook account said she cannot “allow a Native American to enter our business including Cheers. The problem is we do not know the nice ones from the bad natives…so we just have to say no to them!”
That same day, Connie Uhre allegedly posted a statement in a comment thread from her Facebook account announcing that “we will no longer allow any Native American [sic]” in the Grand Gateway or in the Cheers Sports Lounge and Casino. The complaint alleges that on two occasions, the defendants turned away Native Americans who sought to book a room. This occurred on March 21 and March 22 and possibly other dates, as well.
Uhre’s comments and actions, which followed a shooting involving two teenagers at the hotel, sparked large protests in Rapid City. It also drew condemnation from the city’s mayor, Steve Allender.
Rapid City, known to many as the gateway to Mount Rushmore, is home to more than 77,000 people. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, at least 11% of its residents identify as American Indian or Alaska Native.
Nicholas Uhre said he and his mother had been under pressure from the DOJ to enter a consent decree. However, according to Associated Press, he said there were “sticking points” in the negotiation. “I guess they are going to do what they are going to do,” he said.
The hotel owners have also been embroiled in separate lawsuits. There is one from the NDN Collective seeking monetary damages for the hotel’s policy. There is a counter-suit against the Indigenous activist organization. And there is another lawsuit from Connie’s son Judson Uhre. He said she harmed the family business when she “made a racially charged rant which was posted on a website with wide coverage and this led to the financial loss of clients for the hotel as well as the damage to the hotel’s reputation.”