Incident at Grand Gateway Hotel Highlights the Urgency for Inclusion in the Travel Industry
The Department of Justice recently reached an agreement with the Grand Gateway Hotel in South Dakota. Under this agreement, owner Connie Uhre is barred from any involvement in the company or its subsidiary businesses due to her discriminatory remarks against Indigenous Americans. However, the hotel is now facing fresh allegations of anti-Indigenous practices, this time involving Connie’s son, Nick Uhre. This recent lawsuit is not the Grand Gateway Hotel’s first complaint when it comes to being accused of anti-Indigenous behavior.
One such incident occurred in October when Ryan and Jessica White, a married couple from Wisconsin, saw their reservation canceled upon check-in. They took legal action against the Grand Gateway Hotel and Cheers Sports Lounge and Casino in Rapid City. According to the lawsuit, the Whites made reservations for three rooms through booking agent Travelocity. Jessica, who is white, faced no issues during check-in. However, when Ryan, an Indigenous American, entered the lobby, the employee (believed to be Nick Uhre) refused to process their check-in or honor their reservation.
Despite the Whites’ attempts to provide their confirmation number, the employee refused to acknowledge it or check the hotel’s system. The lawsuit also alleges that the employee yelled at a Travelocity representative to “speak English!” while discussing the reservation. The situation escalated when the employee asked Ryan White to leave the lobby, called security and threatened to involve law enforcement. Feeling threatened and discriminated against, the White family left the hotel and had to make another reservation through Travelocity.
The lawsuit argues that this incident is part of a larger pattern of discrimination by the Grand Gateway Hotel, creating a hostile and unwelcoming environment for Native Americans. Expedia Group, the parent company of Travelocity, has suspended the Grand Gateway Hotel from their platforms while further investigating the travelers’ experience. They have emphasized their zero-tolerance policy towards harassment, violence, and discrimination.
“It is crucial to address incidents of discrimination and foster an inclusive environment for all guests. At Expedia Group, we prioritize the safety and well-being of our customers and will take appropriate action against any form of harassment or discrimination. We stand with our Indigenous community and will continue to support and promote diversity and equality in the travel industry.”
In March 2022, The Daily Beast reported that the former owner of the Grand Gateway Hotel, Connie Uhre, made social media posts suggesting that the hotel would ban all Native Americans from the property following a recent incident. These posts sparked controversy as Connie stated that she couldn’t distinguish between “good” and “bad” Native Americans. However, Nick Uhre, speaking to South Dakota Public Broadcasting, clarified that Indigenous Americans are not banned from staying at the hotel.
Following these events, the NDN Collective, an Indigenous activist organization based in South Dakota, filed a complaint against the hotel, Connie Uhre, and Nick Uhre for explicit racial discrimination. As if the social media comments weren’t enough, Connie was arrested and charged with three counts of assault in May 2022 for allegedly spraying cleaning solutions at Indigenous Americans protesting outside the hotel.
In October 2022, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the hotel for civil rights violations. The DOJ settled the case on November 11, 2023, demanding that Connie Uhre be removed from her position for four years and that the hotel and its owners issue a public apology specifically to tribal organizations in South Dakota and the Great Plains region. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland emphasized that the defendants’ actions were reminiscent of a long history of prejudice and exclusion faced by Native American communities.
The White family, who were involved in the incident, have filed a lawsuit seeking a trial by jury and financial relief.
Content derived from writing and reporting by Brooke Leigh Howard.