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As part of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, the owners of the Grand Gateway Hotel in Rapid City, South Dakota have released a letter to the media that apologizes for the racist comments made by co-owner Connie Uhre.

After a shooting at the hotel on March 19 2022 that involved two Native Americans, the hotel banned Native Americans from the hotel and adjacent night spot called Cheers Sports Lounge and Casino. 

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Connie Uhre wrote a comment on Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender’s Facebook page: “Do [sic] to the killing that took place at the Grand Gateway Hotel on March 19, 2022 at 4 am, plus all the vandalism we have had since the Mayor and Police Department are working with the non-profit organization (Dark Money), we will no longer allow Native Americans on property, including Cheers.”

She also wrote that she "can’t tell who is a bad Native or a good Native.” 

Her racist comments led to protests by Native Americans at the establishment and an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

In November the Justice Department entered into a consent decree with the owners and operators of the Grand Gateway Hotel and Cheers Sports Lounge and Casino.  

In a news release U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said that the actions were “reminiscent of a long history of prejudice and exclusion Native American communities have faced.”

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said the defendants’ conduct was “egregious, motivated by naked animus, and amounted to an outright ban on Native American customers seeking access to a public establishment.”

Part of the consent decree called for the owners of the properties to release a letter of apology to the media:

Read the letter below:

“We deeply regret the pain or harm Ms. Uhre’s statements have caused within our Native American community. We want to make clear that we welcome all Native Americans to the Grand Gateway Hotel and Cheers Sports Lounge.

In acknowledging that Ms. Uhre’s comments were wrong, we also want to acknowledge the remarkable Native American families who live and work within our community. We treasure our many relationships with Tribal members over the years. And we know, based on those relationships, that the Native American community is made up of hardworking individuals who are dedicated to their families and their culture.

We are privileged and fortunate to have many friends, employees, and neighbors who are Tribal members. The values of inclusivity, respect, and unity are shared, and we wish to assure our patrons that our businesses are committed to these values.

We have a deep history and relationship with the tribes and their members for over 45 years, and we look forward to continuing that relationship far into the future.

Sincerely,

Chad Uhre, director and owner
Josh Uhre, director and owner
Judd Uhre, owner
Leslie Sherry, director and owner
Nicholas Uhre, director, owner and manager
Connie Uhre, former president, former director, former owner”

On Tuesday, NDN Collective received a court-ordered apology letter from the Grand Gateway Hotel. In response, the organization released the following statement: 

While we are glad the court saw Connie Uhre’s statements about refusing to serve Native people as unacceptable, the fact that they had to issue an order for this letter is very telling. We find this so-called apology – which attempts to center Grand Gateway Hotel as an inclusive business –  to be insulting and disingenuous. 

The letter contains an apology for ‘statements made by Connie Uhre,’ yet fails to mention that those statements were actually enforced when multiple Native people were denied a room. It fails to acknowledge the dangerous, dehumanizing, and very public physical assault Connie inflicted on community members. 

The letter tries to reposition the owners as friends to Native people, despite the fact that another lawsuit was filed against the Grand Gateway Hotel just a couple months ago for racial discrimination against a Native person visiting from out of town. 
The letter says the owners know the Native community is made up of ‘hardworking individuals,’ to us, this begs the questions – who gets to decide which of us is ‘hardworking,’ and which is a threat? Do Native people have to prove ourselves as ‘hardworking’ just to get treated with basic human respect – a near impossible task when we’re constantly met with racism? When will Native people get the same benefit of the doubt and dignity as white people in South Dakota? 

From the beginning, we have made clear that our actions to hold owners of the Grand Gateway Hotel accountable for their discrimination and violence against Native people is part of a much bigger fight to address the rampant racism in Rapid City. 

We will continue to stand up for the rights and safety of the Native community. We encourage the owners of the Grand Gateway Hotel to rethink this letter. We would welcome another apology demonstrating reflection and a desire for real accountability, and containing next steps about how they plan to concretely repair the harm they’ve caused.”

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About The Author
Levi Rickert
Author: Levi RickertEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Levi "Calm Before the Storm" Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected].