Overview:

An Indigenous rights group based in South Dakota, the NDN Collective, filed a class action lawsuit against the hotel ownership in the US District Court for the District of South Dakota. The lawsuit alleges that the denial of service was “part of a policy, pattern, or practice of intentional racial discrimination against Native Americans.”

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America has a long, ugly history of discrimination and racism. For most of that history, skin color and ethnicity determined how much political and economic access you had. This adversely impacted the standard of living for nonwhite groups, who had less access to capital, education, and resources. After the Civil Rights Movement, broad changes in American society resulted in higher levels of inclusion. Political, economic, and housing discrimination was banned, and immigration was opened up beyond European countries. Despite the relatively recent inclusionary change in American society, there are still instances of open discrimination against marginalized communities.

One such instance came last week, when a South Dakota hotel was alleged to have banned Native Americans from its property. 

The incident started when two Native American women allege that they were denied service at the Grand Gateway Hotel in Rapid City, after which an Indigenous rights group, the NDN Collective, filed a class-action lawsuit against the hotel ownership in the US District Court for South Dakota. The lawsuit alleges that the denial of service was “part of a policy, pattern, or practice of intentional racial discrimination against Native Americans.” The plaintiffs also allege that Connie Uhre, one of the owners of the hotel’s parent company, used racist and discriminatory language online. “I really do not want to allow Natives on property … The problem is we do not know the nice ones from the bad natives … so we just have to say no to them,” stated the post, allegedly by Uhre

After the event, Indigenous leaders led hundreds of activists and protesters in a march to the Grand Gateway Hotel, and the hotel itself is listed online as temporarily closed. 

The Mayor of Rapid City, Steve Allender, posted on Twitter about the incident. After seeing Uhre’s alleged comments on Facebook, he took a screenshot and posted it to his Twitter account. He said that Uhre’s banning of Native Americans “didn’t reflect Rapid City’s community values.” After the event, Indigenous leaders led hundreds of activists and protesters in a march to the Grand Gateway Hotel, and the hotel itself is listed online as temporarily closed

Incidents of this kind are a reminder that the United States remains well short of its stated ideals of racial equality. Native Americans have suffered gross injustices throughout this country’s history, and often their struggles are not highlighted as they should be. Despite being the oldest members of most communities within the US, Native Americans still face barriers to inclusion, just as this case exemplifies. Red Bear, the director of the NDN Collective, made a statement at a local rally after the news broke. “As an Indigenous and native people in Rapid City, sometimes we are not recognizing our power in our community, the power that we bring, the business that we bring to this community. We have the power to shift and make change if we stand together collectively,” he said

Marcus Johnson

Marcus Johnson is a political commentator and a political science Ph.D. candidate at American University. His primary research focus is the impact of political institutions on the racial wealth gap.