Local leadership slams hotel owner for inflammatory racial comments

RAPID CITY, S.D. — A local hotel owner’s inflammatory comments following a shooting incident are sparking outrage in the Rapid City community.

“We will no longer allow any Native American[s] on [the] property or in Cheers Sports Bar,” reads the comment by Connie Uhre on Facebook.

Screenshot 2022 03 22 151609

A screenshot of Connie Uhre’s Facebook comments

Uhre, the owner of the Grand Gateway Hotel, posted the comment after a Saturday morning shooting at the hotel left one in critical condition.

Those comments sparking outrage from Rapid City’s leadership, law enforcement, and indigenous community.

“To make a statement that they would no longer allow Native Americans on site is really something that would not get much attention in the 1950s or ’60s, but today it just has to be called out,” says Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender.

Uhre’s son, Nick, who manages the hotel, says it is not a policy – but that he fears for the safety of his family, staff, and guests.

City leaders convening with members of the community, from Oglala Sioux Tribal leadership to NDN Collective, to build bridges and formulate a cohesive response.

“It doesn’t matter your political party; we’re trying to make sure that people get treated right,” says Oglala Sioux Tribe President Kevin Killer. “Those persons have rights and understanding that, at the end of the day, it’s about protecting people’s rights.”

Those in attendance agreed wholeheartedly on one thing.

“Our community suffered a tragedy this weekend with the crime that took place at the Grand Gateway, and to have that followed by another tragedy with the comments that came after the fact is disgusting,” says Lara Roetzel, the chief deputy prosecuting attorney for the Pennington County State’s Attorney’s Office. “It’s not reflective of who we are as a community.”

Ms. Uhre’s comments, while disheartening for many, are protected under the First Amendment.

Roetzel says should the hotel actually implement such a policy, legal action would likely follow from members of the community.

Screenshot 2022 03 22 153519

A screenshot of Connie Uhre’s Facebook comments

Ms. Uhre’s other claim about MacArthur Funds affecting local policework was also effectively debunked.

“We drive the agenda, not MacArthur,” Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom says. “And for them to use MacArthur to justify their ignorant statements about Native American people, it’s just hard to comprehend.”

NewsCenter1 reached out to the South Dakota Department of Labor Division of Human Rights, and received the following response:

“The South Dakota Human Relations Act of 1972 prohibits discrimination because of race, color, creed, religion, sex, ancestry, disability, or national origin. It covers employment practices, labor union membership and services, housing accommodations, education, public accommodations, public services, and property rights. If the Department of Labor and Regulation’s Division of Human Rights receives a complaint regarding the allegations mentioned below, we will investigate the matter. Every case opened with the Division of Human Rights is investigated, unless either party expresses interest in resolving the matter prior to investigation. Prior to a full investigation, the Division of Human Rights has an intake process whereby it determines whether the basic elements of a prima facie case are met before filing a charge.”

Late Tuesday afternoon, tribal, city, county, law enforcement leaders issued a joint statement decrying Ms. Uhre’s comments, calling them, “wrong, harmful and hurtful not only to Native Americans but also to Rapid City citizens, businesses, and the community at large.”

Many in the community are waiting to see what happens next.

For now, Nick Uhre says the hotel isn’t renting rooms to anyone without a pre-existing reservation, and that “natives always have been” and “always will” be welcome.

City of Rapid City Communications Coordinator Darrell Shoemaker says statements condemning the Uhre’s comments will be released in the coming days, as those different organizations in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting work to coordinate their message.

Categories: Local News, South Dakota News