South Dakota Hotel Forced to Issue Apology to Native Americans for Discriminatory Ban

On November 10, 2023, a settlement was reached in a lawsuit involving the Grand Gateway Hotel in Rapid City, South Dakota. The hotel-casino had been accused of violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by banning Native Americans from the premises. As part of the settlement, the owners of the hotel must issue a public apology to tribal organizations in the state and throughout the Great Plains region.

The controversy began in March 2022 when the 75-year-old owner, Connie Uhre, made a racist statement on Facebook, announcing that Native Americans would no longer be allowed to enter the hotel or its casino sports bar. Her son, Nicholas Uhre, sent a similar email on the same day, expressing a discriminatory sentiment towards Native Americans.

The situation escalated when a fatal shooting occurred in one of the hotel rooms, involving two Native American individuals. Quincy Bear Robe, the suspect in the shooting, pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter, and the victim, Myron Blaine Pourier Jr., passed away two weeks later in the hospital.

The hotel’s discriminatory policy sparked civil rights lawsuits and protests by Native American groups and their supporters. NDN Collective, a Native American activist group, attempted to book rooms at the hotel to test the policy and confirmed that they were turned away.

In addition to the policy, Connie Uhre faced legal consequences for her actions during the protests. She was found guilty of two counts of common assault for spraying protestors in the face with a bottle of Pledge dust spray.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division condemned the hotel’s conduct, describing it as “egregious” and “motivated by naked animus.” She praised tribal elders, local officials, and Native American groups for standing against the hotel’s actions. Clarke stated that the settlement sends a clear message to businesses across the US that they must be open to all communities regardless of race.

The settlement also includes a four-year ban on Connie Uhre serving as a director of the company or exercising any management duties at the hotel. Despite the controversy, the Grand Gateway Hotel has since reopened its doors.