DOJ Sues Grand Gateway Hotel for Racially Discriminating Against Native Americans

  • A mother and son operating the Grand Gateway are targeted in the lawsuit
  • The Uhres countersued NDN Collective, a Native American group, for defamation
  • Connie Uhre allegedly told other hotel owners she “had” to say no to Native Americans
  • The DOJ cannot recoup monetary damages for the alleged victims 
DOJ building
The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against two hotel-casino owners for discriminating against Native Americans. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Like mother, like son

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a lawsuit against a South Dakota casino recently accused of discriminating against Native American visitors.

banning Native Americans from accessing “services, accommodations and privileges”

The suit names Retsel Corporation and two directors, Connie Uhre and her son, Nicholas Uhre, in banning Native Americans from accessing “services, accommodations and privileges” at the Grand Gateway Hotel in Rapid City, South Dakota. Retsel also owns and operates Cheers Sports Lounge and Casino in Rapid City.

The Grand Gateway previously filed a countersuit against NDN Collective, a Native American activist group that accused the hotel’s owners of racial discrimination. The Uhres said members of the group conspired to commit trespassing, defamation, nuisance, and civil conspiracy.

Grand Gateway charged by DOJ 

The DOJ’s filing says that on March 20, Connie Uhre told other Rapid City hotel owners and managers that she did “not want to allow Natives on property.”

“The problem is we do not know the nice ones from the bad Natives,” the DOJ alleges Uhre said. “So we just have to say no to them!”

She also posted a comment to Facebook that said “we will no longer allow any Native American [at the Grand Gateway Hotel or Cheers Sports Lounge and Casino]” the same day. 

NDN Collective says that the Uhres banned Native Americans from booking stays at the Grand Gateway after a deadly shootout transpired in one of the rooms. Both the victim and shooter were Native American.

the tragedy of death cannot be met with racist outbursts”

“The Uhres must be held accountable, reminded that they are on Lakota land, and understand that the tragedy of death cannot be met with racist outbursts,” said Sunny Red Bear, racial equity director at NDN Collective.

The Uhres’ countersuit now faces a tough challenge with the government’s intervention. Sunny Red Bear is pleased that the DOJ has gotten involved and hopes that it will affect a nationwide change.

“After several months of mobilizing and organizing against racism here in our homelands of MniLuzahan (Rapid City), we are seeing the outcome of a federal investigation we’ve been pushing for,” said Sunny Red Bear. “It’s important to remember this is not just about the Grand Gateway Hotel—it’s the tip of the iceberg when it comes to discrimination and racism here.”

Response from Native Americans

NDN Collective has been calling for a boycott on the Uhres’ properties since Native Americans were first denied access to hotel amenities on March 21 and 22, immediately after Connie Uhre’s damning Facebook post. 

“Policies prohibiting Native Americans from accessing public establishments are both racially discriminatory and unlawful,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the DOJ’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.”

NDN is fully behind the DOJ in its pursuit of justice against the Uhres. Its involvement is exactly what the group was hoping for to bring the hotel owners to justice.

we can force those running the legal system to be accountable to the people”

“Today is proof that when we organize and raise our voices in the streets, we can force those running the legal system to be accountable to the people,” Nick Tilsen, president and CEO of NDN Collective, said in a statement shortly after the DOJ filed its lawsuit. “Our hope is that the DOJ and courts will shut down the Grand Gateway Hotel and Cheers for the owners’ violation of the civil and inherent rights of Native peoples.

Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act says that the DOJ can procure injunctive relief, which essentially forces the delinquent to commit or stop committing an action. However, the same rule states that the DOJ cannot “obtain monetary damages for customers who are victims of discrimination.”