While a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Grand Gateway Hotel is currently under review, NDN Collective is now applying pressure by mobilizing a boycott against the hotel and all Uhre family-owned businesses. The lawsuit and boycott come in response to racially discriminatory practices of the Grand Gateway hotel, coupled with statements made by Rapid City business owner Connie Uhre, who made a public threat to ban all Native Americans from her businesses— the Grand Gateway Hotel and the attached Cheers Lounge.
Not only did Uhre state her intent to ban all Natives from her businesses, but the Grand Gateway Hotel took action, refusing service in at least two documented incidents after Uhre made the public threat.
“It’s so important for us to use our voices in our own community,” said Sunny Red Bear, NDN Collective Racial Equity Campaign Director. “This boycott is the next step.”
After a tragic shooting involving Native Americans occurred on the Grand Gateway Hotel property on the morning of Saturday, March 19, Uhre said that because she couldn’t tell who was a “good Native” or “bad Native,” that all Native Americans would be banned. The racist statements made by Uhre quickly gained widespread attention, adding to an already distressing situation as 19-year old shooting victim Myron Pourier struggled in critical condition in the hospital with family at his side. After 16 days in medical care, Pourier lost his life on Sunday, April 3.
The response of Connie Uhre in that deeply challenging moment for the Native community illuminated a reality that Indigenous people are all-too familiar with: systemic racism on top of a callous disregard for human life– especially when it is an Indigenous life.
“We extend our heartfelt condolences to the Pourier family and to all of our relatives affected by this tragedy and this situation overall,” said Nick Tilsen, NDN Collective President and CEO. “We are holding the complexity of this moment and will continue to do our best to move this work forward in the most principled way with the boycott, demanding that all of our people be treated with dignity.”
The boycott, which began on Wednesday, April 20, is shifting attention to all Uhre family-owned businesses. In addition to the Grand Gateway Hotel and Cheers Lounge, the Uhre family also owns and manages the Foothills Inn, which is right next to the Grand Gateway Hotel, and Uhre Realty.
“As a result of our collective organizing since Connie Uhre made her statements, there has been a shift here in the community, where people are actually starting to talk more openly about racism,” said Red Bear. “People can’t deny that it doesn’t exist here anymore.”
Outcry in the community came swiftly after Uhre made her statements on social media less than two months ago, and two marches were organized within that week, calling attention to the long legacy of racism against Native Americans in Rapid City and the region, moreover.
Watch Sarah, Sunny & Korina on “NDN Live”– talking about the Boycott and How to Take Action
“While we await the legal proceedings for the federal civil rights class action lawsuit, we are organizing this boycott to demand systemic change for our people,” said Nick Tilsen, NDN Collective President and CEO. “Equitable treatment for Indigenous people is long overdue.”
“We will be organizing in community here in front of the Foothills Inn and Grand Gateway Hotel until we reach our desired outcome– that the Uhre family businesses are shut down, and they are no longer allowed to callously disregard Indigenous life while discriminating against the Indigenous people whose ancestral lands they are settled on,” said Tilsen.
NDN Collective and other allied partners and organizations have organized a picket line every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm in front of the Foothills Inn and Grand Gateway Hotel.
NDN Collective’s Racial Equity Campaign invites all allies and community members to join the boycott, either in-person, or virtually. The following form has been created for those interested in supporting boycott efforts against the Grand Gateway Hotel. Options to support include writing online reviews, phone banking, writing letters, and showing up on the picket line.
Rapid City businesses are also invited to submit a statement in support of the boycott, taking a stand against racist business practices while committing to policies and practices that address systemic racism. Businesses can submit statements here.
On the first day of the boycott action, over 100 people showed up in support throughout the duration of the event. Many motorists and their passengers cheered from their vehicles in support, some honking their horns, and others using their voices to share lilis and akisas— Lakota expressions of encouragement and approval.
Players from the Rapid City Marshalls, a semi-professional football team, also joined the action on the picket line after learning of the racial discrimination of the Grand Gateway Hotel which they had just checked into. Many of the players travel into Rapid City from out of town, and were not yet aware of the hotel’s racist practices or the statements made by Uhre. Upon learning, the team checked out of the hotel, joining the picket line while wearing T-shirts that read,”Rapid City vs. Racism.”
As the first successful day of the boycott closed out, another powerful moment of solidarity unfolded when a group of construction workers from across the street came over to shake hands with individuals on the picket line. Expressing their support of the boycott, they asked for t-shirts and immediately put them on, and then got back to work, with “Rapid City vs. Racism” across their chests.
“It was a moment that reminded everyone of the power of using our voices,” said Red Bear. “We can reach people, and there are allies out there who are ready to take a stand and make a change.”
The boycott has continued every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the past couple of weeks, and will continue until goals are met.
“As we continue to escalate and put pressure on businesses that continue to practice racism in big and small ways, we want the community to understand that this doesn’t just stop here, but that we are going to continue to address systemic racism in this city, on all levels,” said Red Bear. “This is really just the beginning.”
Get Involved Here
More Photos & Media from the Picket Line:
Click on photos to expand