South Dakota hotel owner sued for race discrimination to apologize and step down

A South Dakota woman who said she would ban Native Americans from her hotel cannot manage the establishment for four years and must publicly apologize under agreement with the U.S. Justice Department.

The federal agency announced the apology last week as part of a consent decree with owners of Rapid City’s Grand Gateway Hotel.

Hotel co-owner Connie Uhre in March 2022 posted on social media that she would no longer allow American Indians on the property because of a fatal shooting at the hotel involving two teenagers who police said were Native American.

“We will no long(er) allow any Native American(s) on (our) property,” Uhre wrote in a Facebook post, while offering a “very special" hotel rate to travelers and ranchers.

Members of the Indigenous-led activist group NDN Collective were denied hotel rooms shortly after Uhre’s posts.

After months of boycotts and protests against the hotel and its owners, the Justice Department stepped in and sued, alleging racial discrimination against American Indians.

In a statement announcing the consent decree, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke described Uhre's behavior as “hateful,” saying it “invokes a long and painful history of negative stereotypes against and exclusion of the Native American community."

“We applaud the Tribal elders, local officials, and advocates who took a stand against this shameful conduct," Clarke said. "Our settlement should send a message to public establishments across the country that their doors must be open to all communities regardless of race.”

A lawyer for the Uhres did not respond to a request for comment by The Associated Press. Email and voice message requests for comment to NDN Collective were not immediately returned Monday.

The hotel shut down for about a month because of the protests. Uhre was arrested May 31, 2022, accused of spraying a cleaning product at NDN Collective demonstrators outside the hotel.

As part of the consent decree, which still needs approval from a U.S. District Court judge, the company must apologize for Uhre's posts in letters to tribal leaders and in newspapers throughout South Dakota.

Rapid City, known to many as the gateway to Mount Rushmore, is home to more than 77,000 people. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, at least 11% of its residents identify as American Indian or Alaska Native.