On Wednesday, March 23, NDN Collective filed a federal civil rights class action lawsuit against the Grand Gateway Hotel for refusing service to Native Americans in Rapid City. This lawsuit comes after the owner of the hotel, Connie Uhre, made public statements on social media stating her intent to ban all Native Americans from the hotel and the attached Cheers Lounge after a shooting occurred at the hotel over the weekend involving Native Americans, stating she can’t tell “who is a bad Native or a good Native.”
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Following the statements made by Uhre, Native American staff of the NDN Collective were denied rooms at the Grand Gateway Hotel on two separate occasions. NDN Collective Director of Racial Equity Sunny Red Bear attempted to book a room on Monday, March 21, and was told by the front desk attendant that the Grand Gateway Hotel does not allow local residents to book hotel rooms, stating that this was a policy due to the fact that rooms allegedly were getting “trashed” by locals.
When Red Bear asked for the attendant to produce a copy of their policy to not rent rooms to locals, the attendant was unable to produce a copy of their policy. “We’re not allowed to rent to locals,” said the attendant. “We’ve had a lot of issues with people just coming in and using our rooms to just party and kind of trash the place.”
The audio recording from this incident was submitted as evidence in the filing of the federal civil rights class action lawsuit.
In another attempt, NDN Collective Director of Operations Alberta Eagle attempted to reserve a block of rooms for the organization, and was not only denied rooms by the hotel front desk attendant, she and a group of four other Native American staff of NDN Collective were kicked out of the hotel by the manager while waiting in the hotel lobby.
On Tuesday, March 22, NDN Collective announced the filing of the lawsuit and a march and rally to take place the following day, organized in partnership with the American Indian Movement and the Cheyenne River Grassroots Collective. The march and rally were attended by hundreds of local community members, representatives from Tribal governments, and Native American people who traveled from surrounding reservations.
The march concluded with a press conference in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Rapid City. Representatives from NDN Collective, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and former U.S. State Attorney Brendan Johnson shared details of the federal lawsuit and spoke to the greater problem of systemic racism in Rapid City.
“We sent our people to rent a room [at the Grand Gateway Hotel], and my sister Sunny here was denied the right to do that,” said Nick Tilsen, NDN Collective President and CEO. “They denied her a right and they didn’t have a written policy.”
“After that, we also sent up Alberta Eagle, our Director of Operations to go in there, because she gets rooms all the time in this community– and when she asked to rent rooms on behalf of NDN Collective, the manager came out and denied us to rent rooms there, and removed our people from the lobby of the Grand Gateway Hotel,” said Tilsen.
“We filed this federal lawsuit because our civil rights were violated, and we won’t allow that to happen here in our community to our people,” said Red Bear at the press conference. “It wasn’t just this incident– this is a lifetime, this is generations that have felt this– my mother, my grandmother, our ancestors… Today, we’re making a stand together.”
After the press conference, the rally continued in front of the courthouse where a handful of Lakota people, elders, and youth expressed themselves poignantly.
“Before there was a motel on that property, there was a tipi,” said Lakota veteran and elder, Eddy Pena, and the crowd cheered. “Before all these buildings that you see, there was tipis! This ground is still sacred to the Native Americans.”
Earlier in the day, as hundreds gathered in Memorial Park in Rapid City to share prayer, words of encouragement, and Lakota prayer songs, family members of the victim, Myron Blaine Pourier, who was injured in the shooting incident at the Grand Gateway Hotel, also shared words. Scotti Clifford, Oglala Lakota and relative to the victim, was among the first to share words at the rally.
“I think today is another proclamation, reclaiming who we are,” said Clifford. “It’s not that we have to adhere to the white man to be perfect and accept us. That’s a farce.”
Tilsen also spoke to the shooting incident, which was the impetus for the statements made by hotel owner Connie Uhre. “We can hold the fact that we want to stop the violence in our communities and at the same time, we won’t put up with the racist tactics of business owners in this community or the politicians,” said Tilsen.
To support the family of the victim, Myron Blaine Pourier, donations can be mailed to:
Myron Blaine Pourier Medical Fund
Security First Bank
805 5th Street
Rapid City, SD 57701
NDN Collective will continue to report on this story as it evolves.
NOTE: Racial battle fatigue is a real experience, and NDN Collective offers the following resources for our community members as we face issues around racism and discrimination. Please find those resources HERE.