The DOJ is suing a South Dakota hotel accused of banning Native people: 'The problem is we do not know the nice ones from the bad natives'
The Grand Gateway Hotel of Rapid City, South Dakota, was accused of banning Native people.
After the owner said in March she was banning Natives, tribes issued the hotel a trespassing notice.
On Wednesday, the Justice Department sued the hotel, alleging discriminatory practices.
The Department of Justice on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against a South Dakota hotel and its owners after accusations of discrimination against Indigenous people.
Prosecutors said Natives were banned from accessing the Grand Gateway Hotel, located in Rapid City, and its accompanying sports bar starting in March. Also named in the suit are the Retsel Corporation, which owns the hotel, and two of the company's directors, Connie Uhre and her son, Nick Uhre.
"Policies prohibiting Native Americans from accessing public establishments are both racially discriminatory and unlawful," Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division said in a statement.
The hotel is located in the Black Hills, which is sacred to Native people who have inhabited the area for thousands of years. But in March, as Insider previously reported, hotel owner Connie Uhre wrote on Facebook she was banning Indigenous people after a Native man was arrested in connection to a shooting at the hotel that took place days prior.
"We will no longer allow any Native American on property," Connie Uhre wrote in a comment that was shared and condemned by Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender. The comment also said that ranchers and travelers would receive a special rate of $59 a night.
According to the Justice Department complaint, Connie Uhre made a similar statement in an email chain around the same time. "I really do not want to allow Natives on property," she wrote, per the complaint, adding that whenever the hotel calls the police with "problems" it involves Native people "98% of the time."
"The problem is we do not know the nice ones from the bad natives…so we just have to say no to them!!" she continued, according to the complaint.
A lawyer for Connie Uhre and Nick Uhre did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment. Nick Uhre has previously acknowledged his mother's statements to South Dakota Public Broadcasting but said he did not support them, adding: "Natives are welcome at the Grand Gateway Hotel, always have been, always will."
The complaint also said that in the days following the email the hotel refused to rent rooms to Sunny Red Bar, a Native American, and another Native person. It also said five Native Americans from the nonprofit NDN Collective were also denied rooms.
NDN Collective had filed its own lawsuit against the hotel alleging discrimination after sending representatives to try and rent rooms following Connie Uhre's comments.
"We are grateful that the Department of Justice has joined our efforts to hold the Grand Gateway Hotel responsible for their actions," Brendan V. Johnson, a lawyer for NDN Collective, told Insider in an email, adding he could not comment further due to ongoing litigation.
In addition to NDN Collective's lawsuit, local tribes responded to the alleged discrimination earlier this year by issuing the Grand Gateway Hotel a trespassing notice, citing a 154-year-old treaty.
"It was shocking, but not too much surprising, because we kind of live with this here in South Dakota," Harold Frazier, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux and a signer of the notice, told Insider in April. "But to really see it so blatantly, it was really concerning."
—NDN Collective (@ndncollective) March 27, 2022
The notice, which was signed by several tribal leaders, said the hotel was in violation of the Treaty of Fort Laramie, also called the Sioux Treaty of 1868, which established that the land of the Black Hills belonged to the Sioux. When gold was found in the area a few years later, the US broke the treaty by allowing white settlers to move there, an action the Supreme Court deemed illegal in 1980.
The treaty states that non-Native people may only pass through treaty lands with the consent of Natives, and that any white person who commits wrongdoing against a Native person can be referred to the federal government for arrest and prosecution under US law.
James Meggesto, an attorney who specializes in Native American law and a member of the Onondaga Nation, previously told Insider that under the Constitution treaties are the law of the land, regardless of when they were made.
"A treaty is the supreme law of the land whether it was made five years ago or hundreds of years ago," Meggesto said, noting that US courts have repeatedly upheld Indian treaties. However, despite the validity of treaties, he added that the government is often not set up to enforce them.
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